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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In a non-precedential order issued Aug. 12, a 7th Circuit panel sent the case Brooke N. Taflinger v. United States Swimming Inc. and Westfield Washington School Corp., No.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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