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Appeals court: Federal judge should decide on state law claims

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has sent a case back to an Indianapolis judge, saying she didn’t properly weigh whether the case should be prolonged on remand to Hamilton Superior Court instead of her deciding on the issues that have already been fleshed out in federal court during the past year and a half.

In a non-precedential order issued Aug. 12, a 7th Circuit panel sent the case Brooke N. Taflinger v. United States Swimming Inc. and Westfield Washington School Corp., No. 1:09-CV-00771, back to U.S. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in the Southern District of Indiana for her to reconsider.

The case involves elite swimmer Brooke Taflinger, who competed at Indiana University and the University of Florida and qualified for the Olympic trials in both 2000 and 2004. After graduating from high school, she swam for Westfield Area Swimmers that later became Central Indiana Aquatics, a club team that coach Brian Hindson had founded in 1998. Hindson recruited Taflinger to swim for his team. His program was organized under the non-profit U.S. Swimming comprised of thousands of coaches and swimmers nationwide, and through that program Taflinger received a swimming scholarship from the University of Florida.

But unbeknownst to her, Hindson had placed a video camera in a padlocked locker to secretly tape Taflinger and other teenage girls that he coached while they were changing in locker rooms.

That didn’t come to light until 2008, when the F.B.I. received a report that a computer belonging to Hindson that sold on eBay contained pornographic images. An investigation led to the coach pleading guilty to 11 counts of child pornography production. He’s currently serving a 33-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna, Fla. with lifetime supervision post-release.

But after all that criminal activity transpired, Taflinger in 2009 sued in Hamilton Superior Court. She alleged that U.S Swimming and the Westfield-Washington School Corp., which allowed Hindson access to locker rooms, failed to take measures to protect swimmers from his criminal behavior. The case was removed to federal court.

In January, Judge Pratt dismissed the federal claims in the suit – ruling that the Fourth Amendment didn’t apply to individuals such as Hindson, who wasn’t acting as a school official in his coaching capacity; and that Westfield-Washington Schools can’t be held liable because Hindson’s team wasn’t a part of the school district’s educational activities and Taflinger didn’t sufficiently prove the school knew of Hindson’s activity, or couldn’t have been expected to know.

On the state law claims – general negligence, breach of contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and negligent supervision – Judge Pratt remanded those to Hamilton Superior Court for further consideration, since all the federal claims had been dismissed. She cited the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction in factors outlined in Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 (1988), that weighed in favor of her remanding those remaining state law claims rather than addressing them in federal court where the case had been for more than a year.

Both U.S. Swimming and the high school appealed, and the appellate court consolidated those actions into Taflinger v. U.S. Swimming, et. al., Nos. 11-1296 and 11-1412.

The federal panel pointed out that District courts must make a “considered determination” as to whether it should retain or remand state claims, something that Judge Pratt didn’t appear to do in this case. She cited the Carnegie-Mellon factors of judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity, but didn’t provide any analysis of how those factors influenced her decision.

“Although generally a district court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims that were not thoroughly developed in the course of resolving federal claims, we have recognized that the interest of judicial economy compels a court to retain jurisdiction over state claims when substantial resources already have been committed to deciding them, or when there is no doubt about how those claims should be decided,” the appellate panel wrote.

Nineteen months have lapsed since the case was removed to federal court, with discovery and a full record being litigated on all claims – including the state claims, the panel wrote. Judge Pratt also evaluated and dismissed two of Taflinger’s state claims against U.S. Swimming, and even Taflinger concedes that the remaining state claims that are ready to be decided would prolong the case even more if remanded.

Judge Pratt’s order remanding the state claims is vacated, and the case is remanded to the federal court for further proceedings.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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