Ford v. Sessoms et al
OPINION AND ORDER: DENYING 109 MOTION for Summary Judgment by Plaintiff Toney Ford, Sr and GRANTING 111 MOTION for Summary Judgment by Defendant Derek Sessoms. The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of all defendants and against plaintiff, and this case is thereby CLOSED. Signed by Judge Philip P Simon on 5/30/2017. (Copy mailed to pro se party)(lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
DR. TONEY FORD, SR.,
DEREK SESSOMS, et al.,
CAUSE NO. 1:14CV320-PPS
OPINION AND ORDER
On September 23, 2013, Dr. Toney Ford, Sr. had an unhappy encounter with
Marion, Indiana police officer Derek Sessoms. On October 14, 2014, Ford filed a broad
lawsuit about the encounter, naming defendants including Marion’s mayor, members
of the Marion City Council, and the local newspaper editor, and alleging that his arrest
was the result of racial profiling without cause. By now, only the claim against Officer
Sessoms remains. Ford alleges that his arrest was racially motivated and in violation of
his Equal Protection rights. The case has finally progressed to the summary judgment
stage, at which the parties must put their evidentiary cards on the table to see if a trial is
required. Both Ford and Sessoms have filed motions for summary judgment. Ford’s
motion fails because he lacks evidence to support his claim that Sessoms’ conduct was
racially motivated. Sessoms’ motion, by contrast, succeeds because he supports his
story with evidence and Ford has no evidence to contradict it.
Equal Protection Claim
Ford’s remaining Equal Protection claims concern Sessoms’ alleged harassment
of Ford, by the manner in which Sessoms followed the car Ford drove, and by Sessoms’
arrest of Ford. “Racial profiling, or selective enforcement of the law, is a violation of the
Equal Protection Clause.” Sow v. Fortville Police Dep’t., 636 F.3d 293, 303 (7th Cir. 2011),
citing Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 635 (7th Cir. 2001). “To show a violation
of the Equal Protection Clause, plaintiffs must prove that the defendants’ actions had a
discriminatory effect and were motivated by a discriminatory purpose.” Chavez, 251
F.3d at 635-36. The discriminatory effect prong requires Ford to demonstrate that he is
a member of a protected class, that he is otherwise similarly situated to members of the
unprotected class, and that he was treated differently from members of the unprotected
class. Id. at 636. To show discriminatory purpose “‘implies more than...intent as an
awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker...selected or reaffirmed a
particular course of action at least in part “because of”...its adverse effects upon an
identifiable group.’” McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 298 (1987) (quoting Pers. Adm’r of
Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 279 (1979). To survive summary judgment, Ford is
“required to provide evidence that [Sessoms] was ‘motivated by a discriminatory
purpose.’” Sow, 636 F.3d at 303, quoting Chavez, 251 F.3d at 635-36.
In the summary judgment context, Rule 56(c)(1)(A) requires a party who is
“asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” to “support the assertion by
citing to particular parts of materials in the record...or showing that the materials cited
do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party
cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” In considering the parties’
compliance with these requirements, I “need consider only the cited materials,” and am
not required to comb the record for evidence not specifically cited by the parties. Rule
Ford’s summary judgment briefing fails to set forth material facts supported by
citations to evidence of record, and freely mixes factual assertions with argument and
speculation. He makes ridiculous claims of the existence of “compelling and
overwhelming” evidence of a pattern of race-based harassment, when he has adduced
no such evidence, much less evidence that warrants his dramatic adjectives. [DE 109 at
7.] The only evidence Ford has submitted in connection with the cross-motions for
summary judgment are exhibits to “Plaintiff’s Addendum on Damages Pursuant to
F.R.C.P. 9(g)” [DE 110], filed with his motion for summary judgment. As the title
suggests, this document presents Ford’s statement and calculation of his damages,
supported by exhibits relating to job opportunities and his work as a speaker and
professor. Ford also cites allegations in his verified complaint. “[A] verified complaint
is not just a pleading; it is also the equivalent of an affidavit for purposes of summary
judgment, because it ‘contains factual allegations that if included in an affidavit or
deposition would be considered evidence, and not merely assertion.’” Beal v. Beller, 847
F.3d 897, 901 (7th Cir. 2017), quoting Ford v. Wilson, 90 F.3d 245, 246 (7th Cir. 1996).
The complaint alleges that after leaving work on September 23, Ford noticed a
“strange white car” following him. [DE 1 at 5.] Attempting to evade the car because it
“closely trail[ed] Dr. Ford’s vehicle,” Ford chose to drive between the curb and a car
stopped at an intersection, ultimately hitting a stop sign. [Id. at 6.] Ford “exited the
vehicle and left on foot.” [Id.] These basic facts about what occurred are not disputed
by Sessoms. Among the facts the complaint omits but are now undisputed is that Ford
sideswiped the car that was stopped at the intersection and struck both a fire hydrant
and a stop sign. This led to Ford’s conviction via his plea of guilty to 2 misdemeanors
arising out of the incident – charges of resisting law enforcement and failure to stop at
the scene of an accident resulting in damage to an attended vehicle.
In support of his version of the story, Officer Sessoms offers deposition
testimony from himself and Ford and the driver of the sideswiped car, as well as police
reports. Here are the relevant facts asserted by defendant Sessoms and supported by
his evidence. On the afternoon of September 23, Sessoms was on patrol in his squad
car when he saw an individual named Anthony Clark in an alleyway. Clark was a
person known to Sessoms, and Sessoms believed that a warrant for Clark’s arrest was
outstanding. Sessoms radioed dispatch to confirm the existence of the warrant, and saw
Clark turn and run through the alley. Sessoms circled the block and saw a black
Mercury Sable which he associated with Anthony Clark’s gang. When Sessoms was
within sight of the Sable, its driver pulled into a parking lot and stopped. Sessoms
believed this behavior was likely intended to avoid a traffic stop.
Sessoms again circled the block to approach the vehicle but by the time he
returned, the Sable had exited the parking lot. Sessoms followed the Sable as it
accelerated to speeds above the posted limit, and Sessoms activated his emergency
lights. As the Sable approached the intersection at 5th and Western, it attempted to
drive between the curb and a car stopped at the intersection. The Sable sideswiped the
other car (driven by deponent Carolyn Ann Hiatt), and struck a stop sign and fire
hydrant. Plaintiff Ford, who had been driving the Sable, exited the car and fled on foot.
Sessoms pursued Ford on foot, caught up to him in a nearby parking lot, and placed
him under arrest.
Ford attempts to create genuine disputes about several facts asserted (and
supported) by Sessoms’ evidence. Ford argues that there is no evidence to “verify” that
Sessoms contacted dispatch about a warrant for Anthony Clark. [DE 115 at 4.] But there
is such evidence—Sessoms testified to the fact in his deposition [DE 113-1 at 7 (internal
p. 13, RR. 5-10)], and it is reflected in Sessoms’ narrative in the police report, which also
reflects his initial radio report that he might have spotted Clark [DE 113-2 at 1-2].
Ford’s notion of the necessity of corroboration is misplaced. Rule 56(c)(1)(A) offers
three options for demonstrating that the fact to which Sessoms testifies is genuinely
disputed. The first is to cite to particular evidentiary material, but Ford offers no
evidence to contradict Sessoms on this point. The other options are to show that Ford’s
cited evidence doesn’t establish the absence of a genuine dispute or that it is
inadmissible evidence, neither of which Ford is able to do. In any event, whether or not
Sessoms confirmed the existence of a warrant for Clark is not material to the summary
Ford contends that Sessoms was not driving a marked police car. For this
proposition Ford cites a portion of his deposition that has not been filed with the court.
Sessoms’ own testimony that he was driving a marked police car is supported by the
testimony of Ms. Hiatt. [DE 113-1 at 24 (internal p.81, RR. 5-13); DE 113-4 at 7 (internal
p.16, , RR. 1-12).] Ultimately, disputed or not, whether Sessoms was in a marked police
car is not material to Ford’s claim that Sessoms was motivated by Ford’s race to tail him
and arrest him after he left the scene of the accident with Ms. Hiatt’s car, the stop sign
and the fire hydrant.
Ford raises a question about the registration of the car he was driving, as though
to cast doubt on Sessoms’ claim that he believed it belonged to someone associated with
Anthony Clark. The police reports reflect two different license numbers for the black
Sable, and two different owners, one of whom is the woman Sessoms believes is
associated with Anthony Clark. No matter what the confused state of the actual
ownership of the car, that muddle does not impact Sessoms’ claim that he believed the
car was associated with Anthony Clark, whom he wished to pursue at that time based
on the outstanding warrant. Ford also takes issue with the reasonableness of Sessoms’
behavior in following the black car, specifically the route he drove to maintain
proximity to the car. This argument similarly does not bear upon Sessoms’ motive in
following the car, and does not create a triable dispute of fact that Sessoms was
motivated by the driver’s race.
Next Ford questions whether Sessoms activated his siren or lights prior to the
accident, suggesting that without these signals, Ford had no reason to respond to
Sessoms as a police officer. But Ford pled guilty to resisting law enforcement. In any
event, the issue is neither here nor there—Ford does not demonstrate that whether or
not Sessoms attempted to pull Ford over prior to the accident has any relevance to the
elements of the remaining Equal Protection claim.
Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” The claim remaining in this case after the screening
review under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B) is an Equal Protection claim that Officer Sessoms
“acted to harass, arrest and detain Ford and did so based on his race or nationality.”
[DE 3 at 4.] Ford’s own motion for summary judgment and his opposition to Sessoms’
motion fail for Ford’s lack of evidence that could enable a reasonable jury to find
essential elements of his Equal Protection claim, namely that he suffered a
discriminatory effect by being treated differently from similarly situated non-blacks,
and that Sessoms acted with discriminatory purpose in following and arresting Ford.
Ford offers no evidence to support either race-based element of his Equal
Protection claim – no statistics, for example, and no evidence of racial bias on the part of
Sessoms. The arrest was clearly supported by probable cause after Sessoms witnessed
Ford cause an accident and leave the scene. Even assuming it is possible for such an
arrest to be nonetheless racially motivated, Ford has produced no evidence to support
such a finding. As to the harassment, assuming without deciding that the manner in
which Sessoms tailed Ford’s car could constitute a police officer’s actionable harassment
of a driver, again Ford has adduced no evidence that could sustain a jury’s verdict that
the action was motivated by a discriminatory purpose or that Sessoms was treating
Ford differently than similarly situated non-blacks.
Instead, Ford’s entire strategy appears to be to attempt to cast doubt on Sessoms’
explanation for his conduct, namely that he had spotted Anthony Clark and was
pursuing him based on the outstanding warrant. “[W]hen challenges to witness’
credibility are all that a plaintiff relies on, and he has shown no independent facts – no
proof – to support his claims, summary judgment in favor of the defendant is proper.”
Springer v. Durflinger, 518 F.3d 479, 484 (7th Cir. 2008). See also Morgan v. SVT, LLC, 724
F.3d 990, 999 (7th Cir. 2013); Rayford v. Wexford Health Sources, 400 Fed. Appx. 100, 103-04
(7th Cir. 2010). Ford offers no proof of racial bias, but instead merely speculates that
Sessoms has fabricated his claims about Anthony Clark and the familiar car as a post hoc
justification for his racial harassment of Ford.
With no personal knowledge of Sessoms’ motives, and no documents,
statements, or other proofs of discriminatory intent, Ford is unable to create a genuine
dispute of material fact. Asked repeatedly in his deposition what evidence he had that
Sessoms based his conduct on race, Ford identified none, claiming that his investigation
was not complete or indicating that he “reserved judgment” and refused to “paint
[himself] in a corner.” [DE 113-5 at 3.] Even now, after discovery is indisputably
complete, Ford has no evidence to support his claim of race discrimination, and a
“hunch about the defendant’s motives...in itself will not survive a motion for summary
judgment.” Springer, 518 F.3d at 484. The paucity of Ford’s evidentiary support dooms
his claims against Sessoms in both his individual and official capacities for the simple
reason that Ford is unable to demonstrate that his Equal Protection rights were violated,
so that a determination of who is responsible and on what basis need not (indeed
cannot) be made.
In opposition to Sessoms’ motion, Ford suggests that he is “advancing a ‘class of
one’ equal protection claim” and so “is not required to prove” that the defendant
intentionally treated him differently because of the protected class to which he belongs.
[DE 115 at 13.] In response, Sessoms points out that Ford’s Equal Protection claim has
never been based on a class of one. [DE 127 at 5.] Instead, Count II of Ford’s complaint
is expressly based on race as a class: “Plaintiff is a member of a suspect class and was
unlawfully discriminated against because of his race and nationality.” [DE 1 at 9, ¶48.]
Ford never pled a “class of one” claim, and cannot “‘amend his complaint through
arguments in his brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment.’” Anderson v.
Donahoe, 699 F.3d 989, 997 (7th Cir. 2012), quoting Grayson v. O’Neill, 308 F.3d 808, 817
(7th Cir. 2002).1
But let’s assume for the moment that Ford’s last minute change of course to a
“class of one” theory is not a new factual claim but is instead better characterized as a
new legal theory. It is true, after all, that it is “factual allegations, not legal theories, that
must be pled in a complaint.” Whitaker v. Milwaukee County, 772 F.3d 802, 808 (7th Cir.
2014). But it still gets Ford nowhere because to prove a class of one Equal Protection
claim, a plaintiff must show that he was “intentionally treated differently from others
similarly situated and there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.”
Engquist v. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, 553 U.S. 591, 601 (2008). The crux of a class of one
Equal Protection claim is to prevent government from singling out individuals for
arbitrary and irrational purposes. Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 746 (7th Cir.
2014). There is simply no evidence in the record to suggest that Ford was somehow
arbitrarily and irrationally singled out for arrest. Nor is there evidence that others
similarly situated—in other words, those who get in accidents and then try to flee the
A similar late-blooming claim is that Sessoms wrongfully attempted to stop
Ford prior to the accident and that this constituted an unlawful seizure of Ford. [DE
115 at 17-19.] Ford belatedly raises this Fourth Amendment claim despite the fact that
elsewhere in his briefs he repeatedly contends that Sessoms did not activate his lights or
siren prior to the accident, and at one point expressly states that “prior to the occurrence
of the accident...Defendant had also not attempted to stop [Plaintiff] Ford[.]” [DE 109 at
29; see also DE 109 at 29; DE 115 at 7.] The claim is a non-starter because Ford’s own
contentions defeat it.
scene—are somehow treated differently by the Marion Police Department than Ford
Summary judgment has been described as the “‘put up or shut up’ moment in a
lawsuit.” Siegel v. Shell Oil Co., 612 F.3d 932, 937 (7th Cir. 2010). To preserve his
remaining claims for trial, Ford “must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Siegel, 612 F.3d at 937, citing Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Ford has failed to offer
evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to determine that Sessoms acted with
discriminatory effect and discriminatory purpose, both of which are required for Ford
to succeed on his Equal Protection claims.
Plaintiff Toney Ford’s motion for summary judgment [DE 109] is DENIED.
Defendant Derek Sessoms’ motion for summary judgment [DE 111] is
The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of all defendants and against plaintiff,
and this case is thereby CLOSED.
ENTERED: May 30, 2017.
/s/ Philip P. Simon
Philip P. Simon, Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?