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Court denies officer's summary judgment motion

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A federal judge denied an Indiana State Police officer's motion for summary judgment in a suit alleging he violated a motorist's rights under the Fourth and 14th amendments, ruling it should be up to a jury to decide the issues because the parties' stories regarding what happened during the traffic stop differ radically.

In Sukhwinder Singh v. Indiana State Police and Timothy James, No. 1:08-CV-328, in the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, ISP and Timothy James filed a motion for summary judgment on Sukhwinder Singh's Title 42, U.S.C. Section 1983 claims that James violated his rights under the Fourth and 14th amendments. Singh claimed James used excessive force in arresting him after stopping Singh for running stop signs and that his driver's license was wrongfully suspended without due process.

James said he believed Singh was trying to escape so he used defensive measures to subdue him. Singh claimed James pulled him from his car, hit him repeatedly, and threw him on the hood of the police car. A bone in Singh's eye socket was broken during the interaction.

James also provided false information in the probable cause affidavit to support charges of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and public intoxication charges, stating he advised Singh of the Indiana Implied Consent Law and that Singh refused to submit to a chemical test. Refusal to submit results in a suspension of a driver's license; Singh petitioned the Marion Superior Court for judicial review of his suspension and had it reinstated two months after the incident.

James' motion for summary judgment on Singh's excessive-force claim was denied because there are very different accounts regarding the altercation between the police officer and Singh, wrote Judge Sarah Evans Barker.

James' motion for summary judgment on Singh's deprivation of property claim also was denied by the judge. Singh was deprived of a protected interest - his driver's license - and that deprivation was without due process. Indiana law expressly forecloses an administrative hearing, which required Singh to initiate a review in criminal court to challenge his license suspension. He also wasn't given notice as to how to go about challenging his suspension, wrote Judge Barker.

James and the ISP also invoked a qualified immunity defense to Singh's federal claims as an alternative basis for summary judgment, but it is unavailable on both of his federal claims. The defendants provided no evidence from which the court could conclude excessive force was necessary and that Singh posed a serious threat to James or anyone else at the time. The defendants also failed to provide any legal basis giving rise to an inference that James' actions would have been constitutionally acceptable. Such force, when used in a non-threatening context has been held to be constitutionally unreasonable, she wrote.

Judge Barker did grant James' motion for summary judgment on Singh's state law claim under the Indiana Tort Claims Act because individual government employees acting within the scope of their employment can't be sued. The ISP is not protected by such immunity, and Singh may still pursue his state tort claims against ISP for alleged use of excessive force.

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