Magistrate recommends dismissal of woman’s dog-mauling suit

Despite “horrendous injuries” incurred as a result of “a grievous lack of discretion” by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, a district court magistrate recommends an Indianapolis woman’s federal claim against IMPD and the city of Indianapolis be dismissed because she did not state a legitimate constitutional claim.

In Mara Mancini, et al v. City of Indianapolis, et al, 1:16-cv-02048, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore recommended in a Friday report that Mancini’s complaint against the city of Indianapolis, IMPD and various officers in their individual and official capacities, including former Chief Rick Hite, be dismissed because “a grievous lack of discretion does not suffice to state a constitutional cause of action.”

Mancini brought the claim against the municipal entities in August 2016 after she was mauled by a police dog in July 2015. An IMPD officer released the dog as part of a pursuit of a suspect fleeing a traffic stop. The search led to Mancini’s neighborhood, where her dogs began barking at the police dog. When Mancini came outside to see what the commotion was about, the K-9 attacked and mauled her, dragging her to the ground while biting her elbow, arm and thigh.

An officer helped wrestle the dog away from Mancini, who was pregnant and left bleeding on the ground with puncture wounds. Her injuries required emergency care and surgery, and then additional emergency surgery when her wounds became infected. She then entered pre-term labor a month early, and her son, K.C., was born with signs of her infection and with an addiction to the narcotics prescribed to treat Mancini’s pain.

Mancini sued alleging unreasonable seizure and substantive due process violations under the Fourth and 14th amendments. After the defendants moved for dismissal, the district court recommended dismissal of IMPD, the officers and Hite from the suit. Specifically, Dinsmore recommended the officers be dismissed in their individual capacities for “failure to allege personal involvement in the constitutional deprivations” and in their official capacities “as duplicative of the claims against the city.”

Mancini challenged the dismissal of the city and the unnamed defendants on the basis of her constitutional claims, but the defendants argued that Mancini had failed to assert a Fourth Amendment claim for unreasonable seizure because she was never actually seized. Instead, she was a bystander who was unintentionally injured, they said.

The young mother argued that whether she was a bystander was irrelevant because she was, in fact, seized. But Dinsmore rejected that argument, turning to the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Bublitz v. Cottey, 327 F.3d 485, 489 (7th Cir. 2003). In that case, the federal court held that the “intentionally applied” requirement of a Fourth Amendment seizure “requires the intent to restrain a particular person.”

“Plaintiffs’ own allegations demonstrate that Ms. Mancini ‘was simply not the intended object of’ Defendants’ efforts to seize the fleeing suspect,” Dinsmore wrote.

Mancini further argued an unreasonable seizure claim on the basis that IMPD officers encouraged paramedics to treat another officer who was injured in the struggle to remove the police dog from Mancini before treating her injuries.

But, Dinsmore wrote, “If the officers in fact acted as Plaintiffs suggest in their brief (but do not allege in their Amended Complaint), such behavior was certainly untoward. It does not, however, give rise to an unreasonable seizure claim under the Fourth Amendment.”

Dinsmore also rejected Mancini’s substantive due process claim under the 14th Amendment, writing, “The Amended Complaint fails to plausibly allege that the Officer Defendants’ conduct rose to the level of conscience-shocking,” the standard required by the 7th Circuit.

“Plaintiffs allege serious injury as a result of state action,” he wrote. “But The Constitution does not ‘extend … a right to be free of injury wherever the State may be characterized as the tortfeasor … Whatever remedies Plaintiffs may have in this case must come from state law, not the U.S. Constitution.”

Aside from the failure of Mancini’s constitutional claims, Dinsmore also wrote that her suit should be dismissed because she failed to “put forth a cogent argument” that could defeat the officers’ qualified immunity.

Dinsmore recommended that the suit be dismissed without prejudice in a report that will be ruled upon by District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt. Donnie Morgan, chief litigation counsel in the city of Indianapolis’ Office of Corporation Counsel, declined to comment on Dinsmore’s recommendation.

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