ILNews

Court of Appeals again denies prisoner's suit

Rebecca Berfanger
January 1, 2007
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Yet another one of Westville prisoner Eric Smith's lawsuits has made its way to the Court of Appeals.

In an opinion released today, Eric Smith v. Indiana Department of Correction, et al., 46A03-0607-CV-327, the Court of Appeals affirms the trial court's decision of case 46D03-0410-CT-365.

Pro se, Smith filed the complaint against the Department of Correction and numerous individual employees regarding the grant of the Department of Corrections motion for judgment on the pleadings, the denial of Smith's request for appointment of counsel, the denial of his request to amend his complaint, and the denial of his motion to compel discovery.

According to the online Indiana Appellate Court docket, Smith has filed at least 22 suits making their way to appeals over the years. That doesn't include a Supreme Court decision appointing a special judge to consider one claim, and three criminal post-conviction decisions from appellate judges. The docket lists seven of Smith's cases for 2007.

Smith entered the state's prison system after being convicted of arson in 2001. He was found guilty of starting a fire in an apartment complex that left 12 families homeless and resulted in $2 million in damages. He was sentenced to 20 years.

The issues Smith introduced in this most recent case to make it to the Court of Appeals regarded an incident on June 18, 2004 - the same day he was incarcerated in the Maximum Control Facility in Westville - in which other prisoners attempted to flood the prison after they did not receive lunch.

When Smith saw feces and toilet paper in water that flooded into his cell, he kicked on the cell door to get the attention of prison officers. The officers told him they had been instructed to get Smith's tennis shoes, but he refused.

One of the guards had the cell extraction team come for Smith, and when he still refused, he was sprayed with mace and "mace pellets" that "caused his skin to break, bleed and bruise," according to the opinion.

On Oct. 28, 2004, Smith filed a complaint against the DOC alleging negligence and requested appointment of counsel. On Nov. 10, 2004, the trial court denied his request, finding it was unlikely that he would prevail on his claims.

The 19-page opinion continues to document further complaints and motions Smith has filed in trial court. The opinion also considers Smith's claim that the prison guards should not be shielded by the Indiana Tort Claims Act because Smith claimed the cell extraction team was not properly authorized, and therefore the officers were acting outside of the scope of their employment.

However, the Court of Appeals denied this claim, stating that "enforcing discipline and maintaining prison security is clearly within the prison officers' scope of employment. As such, Smith cannot prevail on his claim against the prison officers individually."

Indiana Lawyer reported about Smith's cases in the July 26-Aug. 8, 2006, edition.
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