LUNSFORD v. TIPTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al.
ORDER denying Defendants' 30 Motion to Dismiss. The Clerk is directed to amend the docket to reflect that the official capacity claims against Sheriff Tony Frawley and Jail Commander Matthew Deckard are DISMISSED. (See Order). Signed by Magistrate Judge Mark J. Dinsmore on 11/29/2017. (MAC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
TIPTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, )
ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. [Dkt. 30.] Defendants
assert the Tipton County Sheriff’s Department should be dismissed from this action because a
sheriff’s department is not a separate, suable entity. [Dkt. 31 at 2.] Defendants argue that, like
police departments, sheriff’s departments in Indiana lack the statutory capacity to be sued. This
is incorrect. Porter Cnty. Sheriff Dep't v. Guzorek, 857 N.E.2d 363, 372 (Ind. 2006) (holding
sheriff's department subject to suit in Indiana Tort Claims Act case).
An Indiana sheriff's department is an independently elected constitutional office, Ind.
Const. art. VI, § 2(a), with a statutory duty to “take care of the county jail and the prisoners
there[.]” Ind. Code § 36-2-13-5(a)(7). Unlike city police departments, the office of an Indiana
sheriff is not a mere department of county government. Frazee v. Dearborn Cty. Sheriff's Dep't,
2017 WL 4650874, at *10 (S.D. Ind. Oct. 17, 2017). A county sheriff answers to the voting
citizens of that county, not county council members or a mayor. Consequently, Defendants’
reliance upon Sow v. Fortville Police Department, 636 F.3d 293 (7th Cir. 2011) is not persuasive
because its outcome was dependent upon the Fortville Police Department’s status as a city police
Regardless, Defendants’ arguments are an attempt to make a distinction without a
difference. Defendants concede Tipton County Sheriff Tony Frawley was properly sued in his
official capacity. [Dkt. 51 at 5.] “A suit against a governmental officer in his official capacity is
really a suit against the entity of which the officer is an agent.” Franklin v. Zaruba, 150 F.3d
682, 684 n. 2 (7th Cir. 1998). In other words, Plaintiff’s official capacity claims against Sheriff
Frawley (as well as the official capacity claims against Jail Commander Matthew Deckard) are in
effect claims against the Tipton County Sheriff’s Department. Therefore, Plaintiff has asserted
claims that are redundant of each other because they are against the same defendant, namely the
Tipton County Sheriff’s Department. For the sake of cleaning up the docket in this matter, the
Court will dismiss the official capacity claims against Sheriff Frawley and Jail Commander
Matthew Deckard and maintain the Tipton County Sheriff’s Department as the named party for
Plaintiff’s claims against the department. See, e.g. Cano v. Vasquez, 2016 WL 7475658 at *2
(N.D. Ind. 2016).
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. 30] is DENIED. The Clerk is directed to amend the
docket to reflect that the official capacity claims against Sheriff Tony Frawley and Jail
Commander Matthew Deckard are DISMISSED.
Dated: 29 NOV 2017
Brandi A. Gibson
COOTS HENKE & WHEELER, P.C.
Matthew L. Hinkle
COOTS HENKE & WHEELER
Jeffrey S. McQuary
BROWN TOMPKINS LORY
Brian M. Pierce
BRIAN M. PIERCE, ATTORNEY AT LAW
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