Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Harris v. City of Marion

March 19, 1996






Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 94 C 231--Roger B. Cosbey, Magistrate Judge.

Before ESCHBACH, MANION, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judge.



This case involves an arrest that should never have taken place, and the duty of local governments to take steps to prevent these kinds of mistakes. Charles Harris sued David Homer, the Police Chief of Marion, Indiana, Officer Edmond Hook of the Police Department, the City of Marion, and Sheriff John Lawson, of Grant County, Indiana, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. Acting pursuant to 28 U.S.C. sec. 636(c), the magistrate judge granted all the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Notwithstanding the frustrating nature of the experience Harris had to endure, we conclude that the district court's judgment was correct, and we therefore affirm.


In a move he came to regret, Charles J. Harris summoned the Marion, Indiana, Police Department on the evening of April 1, 1994, to assist him in a domestic problem. While en route to the Harris residence, Officer Edmond Hook contacted the Marion Police dispatcher to see if there were any outstanding warrants on Harris. After Hook arrived at Harris's home, the dispatcher told him that there was indeed an outstanding felony arrest warrant for Harris from the Grant County court. When Hook informed Harris about the warrant, Harris insisted that there must be a mistake. Hook accordingly double-checked both with the Marion Police dispatcher and the Grant County Sheriff's office. Both sources confirmed that there was an outstanding warrant for Harris's arrest. Hook then arrested Harris and took him to the Grant County jail.

Upon further thought, Harris and his girlfriend, Betsy Smith, began to suspect that the warrant might have been related to an earlier incident that had been resolved. On August 18, 1992, the Grant County court had issued a felony bench warrant for Harris's arrest in connection with a charge of driving with a suspended license. On October 21, 1993, Harris pleaded guilty to a lesser offense, and on October 25, 1993, the court imposed a $500 fine plus court costs and suspended his license for 90 days. On December 9, 1993, Harris paid all the fines and costs, and the case was closed. One final detail, however, slipped between the cracks: the court never recalled the warrant, and it therefore was still outstanding when Hook checked the records on April 1, 1994.

About an hour after Harris was arrested, Smith collected the court documents related to the 1992 charge and the receipts showing that the fines had been paid, and she took them to the County Sheriff's department. They refused to release Harris, telling Smith instead that she had to discuss the matter with the Marion Police Department. Between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon Smith made a number of attempts to demonstrate that Harris's arrest was a mistake, by showing the documents to individuals in the Sheriff's Department, the Marion Police Department, and the Grant County Jail. Eventually, someone told her that she would have to take the matter up with the Clerk of the Grant Superior Court, which would not be open until Monday. On Monday morning, April 4, 1994, Smith went to the Clerk's office, presented the papers, and Harris was released.

Harris later sued Officer Hook in his individual capacity and Chief Homer and Sheriff Lawson in their official capacities only. The City of Marion was added as a defendant because the suit against Chief Homer was necessarily one against the city. See Reed v. Village of Shorewood, 704 F.2d 943, 953 (7th Cir. 1983). He claimed that the City of Marion, Chief Homer, and Sheriff Lawson had failed to implement adequate policies to insure the validity of arrest warrants, and that these omissions had caused him to be subject to unlawful arrest and excessive detention. He claimed that Officer Hook had arrested him without probable cause and used excessive force in making the arrest.


Harris's claims against the City of Marion, Chief Homer, and Sheriff Lawson all depend upon his ability to show that either the City (for the City itself and Chief Homer) or the County (for Sheriff Lawson) had a policy or custom that caused the alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). Harris does not claim that the City, Chief Homer, or the Sheriff had an affirmative policy of arresting people without probable cause or of arresting them based on warrants that should have been recalled. Nor does he claim that they had a custom or practice permitting such arrests or detentions. Instead, he relies on the line of cases that hold that the failure to select or implement necessary practices can constitute a "policy or custom" for purposes of a Monell sec. 1983 suit, if that failure causes a constitutional violation. See Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 123-24 (1992); City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989); Cornfield by Lewis v. School Dist. No. 230, 991 F.2d 1316, 1326 (7th Cir. 1993).

In response to the defendants' motions for summary judgment, Harris presented the following materials. First, he established that the municipal police department depends on the Sheriff's office to furnish information about warrants. The Sheriff's office in turn uses an on-line computer system to gain access to the Grant Superior Court's docket. Only one employee of the Sheriff's office, Sergeant Mark Florence, is trained to use the on-line service. At his deposition, Sergeant Florence testified that, had he been on duty when Harris was arrested, he would have logged on to the on-line docket and he would have noticed the discrepancy between the warrant and the information in the docket. Sergeant Florence also testified that he would have tried to call the Judge at home to see if the warrant was still valid. On one other occasion, Florence had a similar case involving a warrant discrepancy in which he contacted a judge at home and the judge told Florence to direct the individual to appear on the next court date.

In their materials supporting summary judgment, the City, Chief Homer, and Sheriff Lawson emphasized the fact that the arrest warrant had never been quashed or recalled by the Grant County Court, unlike the warrants in Hvorcik v. Sheahan, 847 F. Supp. 1414 (N.D. Ill. 1994), and Ruehman v. Village of Palos Park, 842 F. Supp. 1043 (N.D. Ill. 1993), aff'd, 34 F.3d 525 (7th Cir. 1994). Thus, even a system ensuring twenty-four hour access to the court's records would have shown that the warrant was still active. With respect to Sergeant Florence, they stress first that he could recall at most one time in eighteen years of experience in the Sheriff's office when something similar had occurred. They also argue that it is sheer speculation to assume that Florence could have contacted the judge, and that the judge in turn would have taken any action prior to the Monday morning when Harris was released anyway. Finally, Sheriff Lawson stated in his affidavit that he was not aware of any prior incidents in ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.