ILNews

COA reverses one dismissal of inmate's suit

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The New Castle inmate with a history of filing frivolous lawsuits got a minor victory in the Indiana Court of Appeals today. The judges reinstated his complaint against the only person who presided over the inmate's disciplinary hearing for a Department of Correction rule violation for filing a frivolous claim.

In Eric D. Smith v. Sgt. Thompson, DHB, and Barry Holder,  No. 33A01-0905-CV-214, Smith appealed pro se the dismissal of his complaint against Thompson, whose first name isn't listed in the suit, and Barry Holder as frivolous pursuant to Indiana Code Section 34-58-1-2. Smith's complaint in the instant case stems from a disciplinary hearing that was conducted with Thompson serving as the sole hearing member. After a trial court dismissed a Feb. 13, 2009, complaint as frivolous, the DOC charged Smith with a disciplinary rule violation for filing a frivolous claim.

Thompson found Smith guilty; Holder, acting for DOC Superintendent Jeff Wrigley, denied the appeal. Smith filed his complaint March 24, alleging Thompson and Holder denied his due process rights under the 14th Amendment. He claimed Thompson violated DOC policy by conducting the disciplinary hearing alone and that Thompson excluded Smith from the hearing and continued the hearing in his absence. Smith alleged Holder was indifferent to his claims on appeal. The trial court dismissed Smith's March 24 complaint as frivolous.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the complaint against Holder because Smith failed to make factual allegations of a depravation of due process, except that Holder was indifferent to his appeal. This is an attempt to appeal a DOC disciplinary action, which state courts can't review, wrote Judge Margret Robb.

Smith's claim against Thompson shouldn't have been dismissed, the appellate court determined. Because the trial court dismissed his complaint ab initio, the state never filed an answer nor did it take part in this appeal. Absent information to the contrary, the appellate court has to accept as true the well-pleaded facts in Smith's complaint, wrote the judge.

"[A]s a result, we must assume that the hearing was conducted in violation of DOC policy. In addition, Smith's exclusion from the hearing, if true, could constitute a violation of his basic due process rights," she wrote.

The Court of Appeals agreed with another panel of the court that given Smith's penchant for litigation, there's a strong possibility his claims in the instant case are false or exaggerations.

"While Smith's complaint may turn out to be baseless, it is not clearly baseless on its face, and it is sufficient to survive the screening of the statute with respect to Thompson," she wrote.

The case is remanded for further proceedings in light of the opinion.

The same appellate panel in a separate case also affirmed the dismissal of a separate complaint filed by Smith against Thompson; Wrigley; Jill Matthews, a former employee at the New Castle facility mailroom; and David Ittenbach, a current employee of the facility, ruling the trial court didn't err in dismissing his case as frivolous.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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