Corydon woman’s federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations dismissed without prejudice

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A federal judge has dismissed without prejudice a civil rights complaint filed by a Black woman from Corydon who alleges she was denied full access to the town’s public utilities and faced harassment and threats while living there.

Southern District of Indiana Chief Judge Tonya Walton Pratt issued the order Tuesday in Maxine F. Brown v. Town of Corydon, et al., 4:23-cv-00086.

According to court records, Brown lives in a predominantly and historically Black neighborhood in Corydon.

From the time of her birth in 1944 until she relocated to another county in 1963, and continuing from the time she returned to Corydon in 1979 until present, Brown alleges she has been denied full access to town public utilities such as water/sewer and trash pickup. She currently has a private sewer line that runs across a publicly traveled street, making it “impossible” to protect.

In her complaint, Brown also claims that in addition to her limited sewer and water access, she has faced other difficulties in the town.

For example, Brown purchased a historically Black school and transformed it into a cultural/educational center, but she alleges the school has been repeatedly vandalized. Despite reporting the damages to local law enforcement, she alleges, nothing has been done. The school has also allegedly had its access to town sewer/water blocked from full access.

Additionally, Brown says the town and Harrison County officials failed to incorporate her neighborhood into the town, and the officials have engaged in suspicious acts that caused her to be harassed, intimidated and threatened.

Those issues, Brown alleges, have caused her pain and suffering. She is seeking monetary compensation and full access to town services.

The town defendants moved to dismiss on the basis of insufficient service of process and failure to state a claim for municipal liability, while the county defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

As an initial matter, Pratt dismissed as duplicative the claims against the individual members of the town council as defendants, determining the town was the party of interest in the complaint.

The town also contended that Brown’s complaint should be dismissed because the claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations.

Pratt wrote that Brown’s complaint makes it difficult to determine whether the accrual began in 1979, when she returned to Corydon and should have had reason to know of the public utilities issue, or a later date to the present.

“As filed, it appears Brown is initiating this action several more than 2 years after the constitutional violation occurred,” Pratt wrote. “If so, Brown’s federal claims against Town of Corydon Defendants and Harrison County Commissioners are time-barred, and the Complaint should be dismissed.”

The chief judge then ruled that the complaint fails to state which constitutional right Brown was deprived of, also resulting in dismissal.

As for the Harrison County commissioners named in the complaint, Pratt noted that the complaint does not specify whether the claims are being brought against the commissioners in their individual or official capacities. When a complaint does not specify whether the defendant is being sued in their official or individual capacity, the court is required to presume the defendants are being sued in their official capacity, she wrote, citing Miller v. Smith, 220 F.3d 491 (7th Cir. 2000).

The commissioners contended the complaint fails to allege any claims specifically against Harrison County. They also pointed out that Brown’s complaint states no claims against them as it relates to water and sewer.

Pratt wrote that the complaint fails to state any suspicious actions Harrison County commissioners participated in. Similarly, Brown fails to explain the Harrison County commissioners’ role in the vandalism of the historically Black school.

“Brown’s displeasure with water/sewer services and law enforcement’s response to alleged crimes done by others is not enough for a § 1983 claim against the Harrison County Commissioners,” Pratt wrote. “Brown has pled no facts that give rise to a claim against the Harrison County Commissioners in their official capacities and accordingly their Motion to Dismiss is granted for failure to state a claim.”

Pratt added that Brown’s complaint does not plead any facts suggesting the Harrison County commissioners participated in the town’s decision to not supply water/sewer and trash services to Brown or her school.

Brown was given until Dec. 12 to file an amended complaint.

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