ILNews

Circuit Court rules against deputy town marshal

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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A Fort Wayne couple will get their day in court after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined the Orland deputy town marshal violated the couple's constitutional rights during an altercation at a towing lot three years ago.

In Ryan L. Belcher and Daraina Gleason v. Vaughn Norton and Town of Orland, the court ruled 2-1 Wednesday that the case shouldn't have been dismissed by U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann in Fort Wayne. The district judge had ruled that Norton, the town's deputy marshal at the time, did not unreasonably hold the couple against their will; however, the Circuit Court disagreed.

Belcher and Gleason were traveling on the Indiana Toll Road in February 2004 when the transmission broke in their minivan. When a state trooper stopped to help, he ended up arresting Belcher for driving without a license and had the van towed to Bill's Professional Towing in Orland. Belcher and Gleason went to the yard a few days later to remove personal items from the van, including medicine and court papers, but when they removed more the lot owner insisted they couldn't leave without paying impoundment fees or signing ownership of the van over to the yard. Police were called and Norton arrived; he also wouldn't let the two leave until they abided by one of the two options. Eventually, they signed ownership over to the tow yard.

The couple sued in 2005, but Judge Springmann granted summary judgment to the town and Norton. This 7th Circuit ruling agreed that the town could not be held liable, but the court reversed on grounds that Norton acted inappropriately and could be sued for unreasonable search and seizure because his actions "shock the conscience."

"Because we conclude that Deputy Marshal Norton is entitled to the broad statutory immunity afforded by ITCA, we also must conclude that the statute does not provide an adequate state law remedy to the plaintiffs," the court wrote. "The plaintiffs may recover their costs from Deputy Marshal Norton."

Circuit Judge Daniel A. Manion disagreed in his dissent, noting that: "While the record could, and very well may, indicate that Norton acted improperly, nothing in the record evinces that his behavior was abhorrent," he wrote. "The whole process was unfortunately clumsy and mishandled, but by no means shocking to the conscience."
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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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