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7th Circuit rules on police chase violations

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Police chases do not violate the Fourth and 14th Amendments when the officers involved do not intentionally and forcibly halt the fleeing subject, according to a ruling today by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case came out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. It follows an April decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that gave police officers significant protection from lawsuits by suspects who lead them on car chases.

This 7th Circuit decision affirms the District Court's summary judgment in favor of the defendants in the combined appeal of Floyd Steen, personal representative of the estate of Brandon S. Hilbert v. Robert Myers, Brad Ridenour, and City of Portland, Indiana and Richard Philebaum and Teresa Philebaum, as legal guardians of Robyn A. Philebaum, and Robyn A. Philebaum, individually, v. City of Portland, Indiana, Portland Police Department, Robert Myers, and Brad Ridenour.  The court remanded the state law claims back to state court.

The plaintiffs in the combined appeal represent the interests of Brandon Hilbert and Robyn Philebaum. Hilbert was killed and Philebaum was severely injured after a high-speed police chase in which Myers pursued Hilbert's motorcycle.

Myers and Hilbert had a previous encounter in which Myers and another officer mistook Hilbert for an assault subject and held him at gunpoint until determining he was not the wanted suspect. Hilbert's relatives argue he was left in fear of Myers because of this and may explain why he fled.

Myers spotted Hilbert and Philebaum sitting on a parked motorcycle and suspected Hilbert was driving on a suspended license and had no motorcycle license. Once Myers received confirmation that Hilbert's license was indeed suspended and he did not have a motorcycle endorsement, he drove towards the motorcycle, and Hilbert and Philebaum fled. Myers pursued the motorcycle for several minutes at a high speed until the motorcycle went off the road at a sharp turn. Hilbert died and Philebaum was left seriously injured.

The plaintiffs brought suit in the state courts of Indiana, combining both the federal and state law claims. They appealed the District Court's ruling that summary judgment was appropriate with respect to Myers. The court cites County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998) as largely controlling. The Fourth Amendment seizure does not occur during a police chase unless an officer intentionally and forcibly halts the fleeing subject. The court cites Brower v. County of Inyo. The District Court ruled the argument Myers struck the motorcycle was "unsupported speculation" and the 7th Circuit agreed.

The appellants argue the history of antagonism between Myers and Hilbert should be considered; however, the court finds it would only allow an inference about whether a collision would have been intentional - and no evidence exists proving a collision.

Under the 14th Amendment, the District Court found Myers conduct did not rise to the level of shocking the conscience, which was established by the Lewis case.

"The question for us, therefore, is whether there is sufficient evidence of some intent to harm that goes beyond the traffic stop, the decision to pursue, and the decision to not terminate the pursuit at some point before the crash," Judge Kanne wrote. "We find no evidence of that intent."

Judge Kanne states the Supreme Court has set the bar very high in pursuing 14th Amendment claims that arise out of a police chase, and even if the court questions Myers was negligent, reckless, or deliberately indifferent, under standards set by Lewis, those questions are to be determined for state courts and the law of tort.

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  1. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  2. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

  3. She must be a great lawyer

  4. Ind. Courts - "Illinois ranks 49th for how court system serves disadvantaged" What about Indiana? A story today from Dave Collins of the AP, here published in the Benton Illinois Evening News, begins: Illinois' court system had the third-worst score in the nation among state judiciaries in serving poor, disabled and other disadvantaged members of the public, according to new rankings. Illinois' "Justice Index" score of 34.5 out of 100, determined by the nonprofit National Center for Access to Justice, is based on how states serve people with disabilities and limited English proficiency, how much free legal help is available and how states help increasing numbers of people representing themselves in court, among other issues. Connecticut led all states with a score of 73.4 and was followed by Hawaii, Minnesota, New York and Delaware, respectively. Local courts in Washington, D.C., had the highest overall score at 80.9. At the bottom was Oklahoma at 23.7, followed by Kentucky, Illinois, South Dakota and Indiana. ILB: That puts Indiana at 46th worse. More from the story: Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee and Maine had perfect 100 scores in serving people with disabilities, while Indiana, Georgia, Wyoming, Missouri and Idaho had the lowest scores. Those rankings were based on issues such as whether interpretation services are offered free to the deaf and hearing-impaired and whether there are laws or rules allowing service animals in courthouses. The index also reviewed how many civil legal aid lawyers were available to provide free legal help. Washington, D.C., had nearly nine civil legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty, the highest rate in the country. Texas had the lowest rate, 0.43 legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty. http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2014/11/ind_courts_illi_1.html

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