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USDC: 1983 - no genuine Question of fact regarding unconstutional custom, bad training, etc.

1
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Gary Stellmach,
Plaintiff,
v. Civil No. 06-894 (JNE/RLE)
ORDER
City of Babbitt; Peter Pastika, Babbitt
City Administrator; and Terrence Switajewski,
Babbitt Chie f of Police,
Defendants.
Michael K. OTool, Esq., OTool Law Office, appeared for Plaintiff Gary Stellmach.
Susan M. Tindal, Esq., Iverson Reuvers, LLC, appeared for Defendants City of Babbitt, Peter
Pastika, and Terrence Switajewski.
Gary Stellmach brought this action against the City of Babbitt, Babbitt City
Administrator Peter Pastika, and Babbitt Chief of Police Terrence Switajewski (collectively,
Defendants) under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2000), alleging violations of the Fourth, Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments. Stellmach also asserts various state-law claims. The matter is before
the Court on Defendants motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court grants the motion.
I. BACKGROUND
On May 25, 2003, Officer Koponen1 responded to a domestic abuse call. Before Officer
Koponen arrived, the suspect went to Stellmachs house. Officer Koponen asserts that he could
hear the suspect yelling inside Stellmachs house and that the suspect was intoxicated. Officer
Koponen called for backup. With backup present, Officer Koponen knocked on Stellmachs
1 Officer Koponen is not a named defendant.
2
door, identified himself as a police officer, and requested that the door be opened. Officer
Koponen then kicked in the door. Stellmach contends that he was bending down to open the
door at this time, that the door hit him in the head, and that the doors impact caused spinal
injuries. Stellmach also contends that Officer Koponen and Chief Switajewski had harassed him
for years.
II. DISCUSSION
Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories,
and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as
to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court
of the basis for its motion, and must identify those portions of [the record] which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the nonmoving
party to respond by submitting evidentiary materials that designate specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 587 (1986). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must look at
the record and any inferences to be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
A. Section 1983 claims
Stellmach asserts claims under section 1983 for deprivation of his constitutional rights.
Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation,
custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within
3
the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured . . . .
42 U.S.C. 1983. Stellmach asserts his section 1983 claims against the City of Babbitt and the
individual defendants in their official capacities only. A suit against an employee in his official
capacity is a suit against the public employer. Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531,
535 (8th Cir. 1999). Thus, Stellmachs section 1983 claims are against the City of Babbitt only.
It is well established that a governmental entity cannot be held liable under section 1983
on a respondeat superior theory. See Monell v. Dept of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978).
In Monell, the Supreme Court held that a municipality could be sued under section 1983 only for
the entitys unconstitutional policies or customs. Id. at 694. For a municipality to be liable
under section 1983, a plaintiff must prove that a municipal policy or custom was the moving
force [behind] the constitutional violation. Id.
Stellmach argues that the City of Babbitt is liable under section 1983 because it allowed
its police to establish and continue a custom of allowing ongoing harassment of its citizens
which directly led to the attack upon [him]. In particular, Stellmach contends that Officer
Koponen and Chief Switajewski harassed him for several years. For example, Stellmach claims
that the two repeatedly drove past his house during the day and that [t]hey would drive past
[his] house at night and shine their spot light into the house for no reason. In addition,
Stellmach claims that Officer Koponen would follow him in town and stand in front of him to
block his path. Stellmach argues that the kicking in of his door was an extension of this
harassment.
A custom is demonstrated by: (1) the existence of a continuing, widespread, persistent
pattern of unconstitutional misconduct by the governmental entitys employees; (2) deliberate
indifference to or tacit authorization of such conduct by the governmental entitys policymaking
4
officials after notice to the officials of that misconduct; and (3) the plaintiffs injury by acts
pursuant to the governmental entitys custom, i.e., proof that the custom was the moving force
behind the constitutional violation. Ware v. Jackson County, Mo., 150 F.3d 873, 880 (8th Cir.
1998). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Stellmach, the Court concludes that
Stellmach has failed to identify a genuine issue of material fact to support his claim that the City
of Babbitt maintained an unconstitutional custom of harassment. First, there is no evidence of a
continuing, widespread, persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct. Even accepting as true
Stellmachs factual assertions that Officer Koponen and Chief Switajewski drove past his house
and that Officer Koponen followed him, there has been no showing that any such conduct was
unconstitutional. Nor is there evidence of a pattern of unconstitutional searches or seizures by
the City of Babbitts police officers. In addition, other than Stellmachs general assertion that
Officer Koponen and Chief Switajewski had been harassing [him] for years, there has been no
evidentiary showing that any such conduct was continuing, widespread, or persistent. Second,
there is no evidence of deliberate indifference or tacit authorization by policymaking officials
after notice of misconduct. Third, there is no evidence that the alleged unconstitutional custom
was the moving force behind the May 25 entry into Stellmachs house.
Stellmach also argues that the City of Babbitt failed to properly train its police officers.
For a municipality to be liable for a failure to train, a plaintiff must prove that it failed to
adequately train its employees and that its failure reflects deliberate indifference to the
constitutional rights of its inhabitants. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989). It is
not enough that a particular officer is unsatisfactorily trained, that a program has been
negligently administered, or that an injury could have been avoided with better training. Id. at
391. In support of his failure to train argument, Stellmach relies solely on his conclusion that
5
Officer Koponens training must have been inadequate because of the alleged pattern of
harassment and the single alleged illegal entry. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to Stellmach, no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the City of Babbitt failed to properly
train Officer Koponen or that it was deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of its
inhabitants.
B. State-law claims
Stellmachs second cause of action asserts various state- law claims. The basis for the
Courts jurisdiction over these claims is 28 U.S.C. 1367(a) (2000), which permits a district
court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over claims that are part of the same case or
controversy as the claims that fall within the district courts original jurisdiction. A district court
may, in its discretion, decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction when all claims over which
it has original jurisdiction have been dismissed. 28 U.S.C. 1367(c)(3); see Franklin v. Zain,
152 F.3d 783, 786 (8th Cir. 1998) (holding district court did not abuse its discretion in declining
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state- law claim pursuant to section 1367(c)(3)). In this
case, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all claims that fall within the Courts
original jurisdiction. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over, and
therefore dismisses without prejudice, Stellmachs state-law claims.
6
III. CONCLUSION
Based on the files, records, and proceedings herein, and for the reasons stated above, IT
IS ORDERED THAT:
1. Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 14] is
GRANTED.
2. The First Cause of Action (42 U.S.C. 1983) of Stellmachs Complaint
[Docket No. 1] is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
3. The Second Cause of Action (Ancillary State Actions) of Stellmachs
Complaint [Docket No. 1] is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
Dated: July 26, 2007
s/ Joan N. Ericksen
JOAN N. ERICKSEN
United States District Judge
 

 
 
 

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