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Indiana Court Decisions - April 2 to 15, 2014

IL Staff
April 23, 2014
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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

April 15

Criminal – Motion to Suppress

United States of America v. Marcus Henderson

13-2483

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence found in his home during a protective sweep by the SWAT team after responding to a hostage situation. Marcus Henderson claimed the sweep – which led to the discovery of firearms – was unreasonable.

South Bend police and SWAT team officials surrounded Henderson’s home based on a possible hostage situation. Crystal Davis had sent her ex-boyfriend, Terrence Winfield, text messages that she was being held against her will by Henderson in his home and that he had weapons in the house. The standoff lasted about an hour, with Davis leaving first unarmed and Henderson stepping out of the house later, unarmed, and locking the door behind him.

Unable to unlock the front door using Henderson’s keys, the SWAT team forced entry through his back door to conduct a brief protective sweep of the house. No one else was inside, but they saw remnants of a marijuana growing operation and firearms in plain view. A search warrant was later obtained.

Henderson sought to suppress the seized firearms, arguing the protective sweep was unreasonable and violated his Fourth Amendment. The District Court denied the motion, and he was found guilty of being a drug user in possession of firearms.

On appeal, Henderson also argued that the police should have confirmed with Davis how many people were in the home, which would support whether police would have to enter to conduct a protective sweep. But the judges pointed out that it’s not realistic for officers to always rely on the statements of people involved at a crime scene; sometimes they provide wrong information or lie. In the instant case, the District judge believed Henderson’s story that Davis was at his house on her accord but made up the hostage situation because she was unfaithful to Winfield.

“And, the duration and scope of the protective sweep in this case were reasonable. The SWAT team entered the house within ten minutes of detaining Henderson. Unable to operate the front door lock with the keys found on Henderson, the SWAT team forced their way into the house through the back door. Once inside, they secured the premises to ensure nobody remained in the house, victim or assailant. The sweep was cursory and lasted no longer than five minutes. … Other than the SWAT team, the South Bend Police Department remained outside until the court issued the search warrant and a full search was feasible. The district court did not err in denying Henderson’s motion to suppress,” Judge William Bauer wrote.

Indiana Supreme Court

April 11

Discipline – Private Reprimand

In the Matter of: Anonymous

45S00-1301-DI-33

The Indiana Supreme Court privately reprimanded a Lake County attorney for making misleading communications regarding legal services and not including his office address in a public communications. The charges stem from his affiliation with a national for-profit organization that franchises its registered trademarks, including “Law Tigers,” to law firms around the country.

The anonymous respondent entered into a three-year license agreement with the American Association of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers Inc. to be an exclusive licensee for Indiana. AAMIL was obligated to make sure that all calls to the Law Tigers toll-free number seeking legal assistance in the attorney’s area were automatically routed to the firm.

The respondent could also be contacted through AAMIL’s Law Tiger’s website, which identified respondent and his firm as the Law Tigers for his territory. This website contained examples of previous results obtained by other Law Tiger attorneys and testimonials. Visitors could be put directly in contact with respondent’s firm and could bypass his firm’s website.

The respondent also distributed AAMIL-produced information, which contained a toll-free number for the Law Tigers service and its website, but did not include the address of the respondent’s firm.

The Disciplinary Commission alleged the respondent violated five rules, but the hearing officer only found respondent violated two rules. The Indiana justices agreed with the hearing officer that respondent violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 7.1, making false or misleading communications regarding services, e.g., statistical data, information based on past performance, testimonials; and 7.2(c), failing to include an office address in a public communication.

The average viewer would not differentiate between respondent and the statements about Law Tigers on the AAMIL website and that the attorney is therefore responsible for the objectionable content on the website, the per curiam opinion states. It does not matter that respondent’s own website does not violate any of the rules charged.

Respondent also should have included his office address in the material he distributed.

The court found the following facts in mitigation: Respondent has no history of prior discipline in nearly 41 years of practice; he has cooperated fully with the commission; he exercised due diligence before entering into a contractual relationship with AAMIL in attempting to determine whether the relationship would violate any professional conduct rule; and his own website provided disclaimers regarding the content of the Law Tigers website.

He is ordered to pay a $250 fee and half of the costs of the proceeding.

Indiana Court of Appeals

April 3

Civil Plenary – Defamation/Communications Decency Act

Jeffrey M. Miller and Cynthia S. Miller v. Federal Express Corporation and 500 Festival, Inc.

49A02-1307-PL-619

The former head of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana failed in his bid to reinstate defamation claims against a business and a nonprofit that owned computers from which critical comments about him were posted online.

Jeffrey M. Miller sued multiple defendants who posted comments on various Indianapolis media websites in 2010. Miller claims he was defamed by online commenters who criticized his leadership of JA, which he ran from 1994 until 2008.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele properly granted summary judgment in favor of Federal Express Corp. and 500 Festival Inc.

Those organizations owned computers from which comments alleging misuse of funds and possible criminal acts were posted to a story about JA on the Indianapolis Business Journal website. Keele concluded that Miller had no claim against FedEx or 500 Festival for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the appeals panel affirmed the ruling.

The panel ruled “the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of 500 Festival and FedEx, finding each to be sued in their capacity as a publisher of the information at issue and concluding that, as such, these defendants were immune from the Millers’ claims under Section 230(c) of the federal Communications Decency Act because these defendants are providers of an interactive computer service.”

The ruling does not bar claims against those who wrote the comments, who are considered “publishers” under the act. Only one commenter is identified in the order – 500 Festival Vice President of Corporate Sponsorship Dave Wilson. Miller was able to trace the comments through IP addresses to 500 Festival and FedEx computers, but he was unable to determine who at FedEx posted two of the comments that form part of the basis of his suit.

Miller also contended FedEx and 500 Festival inadequately responded to his efforts to determine who posted the comments.

“Although there may have remained a genuine issue of material fact concerning spoliation of evidence under state law, the trial court properly granted summary judgment,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel. He wrote, “these issues are mooted by the fact that both FedEx and 500 Festival are immune from the claims brought by the Millers.”

Miller previously won an appellate victory that the Indiana Supreme Court declined to review ordering The Indianapolis Star to identify anonymous commenters who Miller sought to name in a defamation action.

__________

April 7

Juvenile – CHINS/Drug Use

In the Matter of: L.P., a Child Alleged to be a Child in Need of Services, K.K., Mother v. The Indiana Department of Child Services

77A01-1310-JC-427

A mother’s isolated use of methamphetamine by itself is insufficient to sustain a child in need of services finding, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The case involves a Sullivan County mother of 6-year-old L.P. who Department of Child Services interviewed after a tip that the mother had used the drug. The mother tested positive after a voluntary screen. The child was placed with a relative, and DCS then began CHINS proceedings.

Mother voluntarily agreed to drug screens and provided 10 consecutive negative tests. Evidence also was presented that the child was well cared-for. Sullivan Superior Judge Robert E. Springer returned the child to the mother but determined the child to be in need of services. While commending mother for working and avoiding substance abuse, he wrote he agreed with DCS’ “zero tolerance” for meth, which he said had caused “tragic” effects in the southwestern Indiana county. The appeals panel reversed.

“We are mindful that ‘juvenile court judges are often faced with the challenge of balancing multiple factors and multiple voices in a CHINS case’ and ‘[t]he process of the CHINS proceeding focuses on the best interests of the child, rather than guilt or innocence as in a criminal proceeding,’” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote, citing In re K.D., 962 N.E.2d at 1255.

“Although methamphetamine use may indeed be epidemic, here the relevant inquiry was whether L.P. was seriously impaired or endangered and in need of care and supervision unlikely to be provided without coercive intervention of the court. ... (T)he State proved a single use of methamphetamine; likewise, there is no suggestion that it took place in the presence of the child.

“... Mother thereafter voluntarily and consistently took drug screens with negative results. The factual finding of an isolated use of methamphetamine, without more, does not support the conclusion of law that L.P. was a CHINS,” the court held.

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April 9

Miscellaneous – Grandparent Visitation

K.L. v. E.H.

29A02-1308-MI-681

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the order granting visitation to the paternal grandfather of a child whose father killed himself before her birth. But one judge had reservations about the visitation arrangements.

Mother K.L. was legally separated from her husband W.L. when she began a relationship with L.H. in April 2011. She became pregnant and spent time at the home of E.H., L.H.’s father, on occasion during their relationship. In October 2011, L.H., the father of L.L., committed suicide, which led to a break in communication between K.L. and E.H. The father’s wife attended a baby shower for her and K.L. invited E.H. and his wife to the hospital after L.L. was born. It was later determined that L.H. was the baby’s father.

K.L. and W.L. have reconciled since their divorce. E.H. had been unable to see L.L., despite his requests, so he filed for visitation. The trial court ordered mediation, but it was unsuccessful. The court granted E.H.’s petition and dictated that L.L. would visit E.H. every other Sunday for two hours. The visits would initially be supervised, but later transition to unsupervised.

K.L. appealed, arguing the mediator should have been able to testify that E.H. was the one who made mediation unsuccessful as well as that the visitation should not have been granted. She claimed to have a limited relationship with E.H., was worried he could not care for L.L.’s tubes in her ears properly, and worried the visitation would raise questions about her biological father before K.L. was ready to explain the issue to her child.

The Court of Appeals rejected K.L.’s argument regarding the mediator’s testimony, noting that the trial court made it clear that the statements made during mediation would be confidential and the mediator could not testify. It does not matter that this issue involves visitation of a child, as K.L. argued.

The judges also found no abuse in discretion in granting E.H.’s petition for visitation, citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S. Ct. 2054 (2000), and Indiana Code. The trial court noted the limited contact K.L. had with E.H.’s family before and after L.H.’s death, that mother ignored E.H.’s requests for visitation, E.H.’s extensive experience caring for children, and there was no evidence L.L. would be in danger when visiting her grandfather. The court also afforded little to no weight to some of the concerns expressed by K.L.

Judge Margret Robb, in her separate opinion, took issue with the trial court’s lack of consideration to the mother’s concerns and dissented from the majority’s decision to affirm without reservation the visitation order. Robb believed the visitation schedule is not crafted to meet L.L.’s best interests, given how quickly the order increases visitation time and frequency. Robb would remand for the visitation to occur twice a month for two hours under mother’s supervision, with any modifications to be made only after a report to the court.

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April 10

Civil Plenary – Zoning/Judicial Review

HRC Hotels, LLC v. Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals Division II of Marion County, Indiana, Jeffrey R. Baumgarth and The Myers Y. Cooper Company

49A04-1307-PL-313

The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a Marion County court to hear the merits of a hotel’s petition for judicial review of the zoning board’s decision to grant a variance to a develop a pet daycare facility next door to the hotel.

The Marion County Metropolitan Development Commission Board of Zoning Appeals granted Myers Y. Cooper Corp.’s request for a variance to build the pet daycare in Indianapolis. I-465 LLC, owner of an adjacent Hilton Homewood Suits Hotel, protested, arguing noise caused by the pets would disrupt guests. I-465 LLC’s parent company, HRC Hotels LLC, timely filed a petition for judicial review.

Myers Cooper claimed the parent company lacked standing to file the petition for judicial review. After the 30-day deadline to file a review petition had passed, HRC Hotels filed a motion to amend the petition to substitute I-465 LLC as the real party in interest. The trial court dismissed the petition, concluding HRC Hotels lacked standing to file the petition for judicial review, so the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals reversed.

“Here, the fact that HRC Hotels lacks standing because it did not appear before the BZA is not a ‘real jurisdictional problem.’ We understand real jurisdictional problems to be when the trial court renders a decision in a case that it has not been granted the power to decide,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

The lack of standing at the time the petition is filed is a procedural error, she continued, that does not deprive the court of jurisdiction to hear the petition. The trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over HRC Hotels’ petition independent of whether HRC Hotels may have lacked standing when it filed its petition.

“Here, I-465 LLC, as the owner of the hotel adjacent to the Property, is a true owner of the right sought to be enforced. Moreover, HRC Hotels filed its motion to amend its petition and substitute I-465 LLC as the real party in interest exactly thirty days after Myers Cooper filed its motion to dismiss for lack of standing,” she wrote. “Because this Court allowed a substitution under Trial Rule 17(A)(2) sixty-four days after the defendant objected, we find a substitution after thirty days to be reasonable.”

__________

April 14

Domestic Relation – College Expenses/Transcript

Ball State University v. Jennifer Irons, In re the Marriage of: Jennifer Irons, Wife, and Scott Irons, Husband

45A03-1307-DR-296

A divided panel on the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed Ball State University’s appeal of the order that it release the transcript of a student who left the school and owes tuition. The student’s mother added the university to her petition seeking to require her ex-husband to contribute to their child’s college expenses.

Jennifer Irons filed the petition for modification in May 2011, seeking in part an order that Scott Irons contribute to daughter Jordan Iron’s college expenses at Ball State. She attended the school in the fall of 2011 but withdrew in early 2012, leaving an unpaid tuition balance. Jordan is unable to enroll at another college because Ball State will not release her transcript until the tuition is paid.

Jennifer Irons added the school to the complaint because the trial court was unable to fully adjudicate the issues, as future college expenses couldn’t be completely determined until Jordan enrolled at Indiana University Northwest.

Ball State sought to dismiss with prejudice the claim against it, arguing Jordan had no right to her transcript unless she paid the balance on her tuition. The trial court, noting this is an issue of first impression, ordered the university to release the transcript. Lake Circuit Judge George C. Paras also wrote in the order that the Legislature hasn’t created a statutory lien that would allow the university to withhold a transcript for failure to pay tuition.

Ball State appealed, but Jennifer Irons claimed that the order was interlocutory and the university had to have the order certified. Ball State claimed it properly filed the appeal under Ind. App. Rule 14(A).

“We conclude that the order does not fall under Appellate Rule 14(A)(3). The delivery of Jordan’s official transcript does not ‘import a surrender’ as contemplated by the rule. Whether the delivery disposes of all claims and relief sought against BSU does not determine whether a surrender has occurred,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the majority, which includes Judge Margret Robb. “Giving Jennifer a copy of Jordan’s official transcript does not remove the official transcript from BSU’s control.”

“Although BSU did not have a right to appeal the trial court’s order compelling the delivery of the transcript under Appellate Rule 14(A)(3), it could have asked the trial court to certify the order for an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Appellate Rule 14(B). Because BSU failed to have the order properly certified, we must dismiss this appeal,” he wrote.

Judge Elaine Brown dissented on this issue, believing that the order does constitute an interlocutory appeal of right – either under Rule 14(A)(3) or Appellate Rule 14(A)(8).

“BSU is not simply appealing a discovery order which requires parties to a lawsuit to produce documents which could be used as evidence at trial. The appealed order is a dispositive order as to BSU as it serves to dispose of all claims and relief sought against BSU,” she wrote.

The judges all agreed that Jennifer Irons should be denied appellate attorney fees.

__________

April 15

Criminal – Probation Revocation

Lucas H. Jackson v. State of Indiana

62A04-1311-CR-563

A Perry County trial court abused its discretion in revoking a man’s probation based solely on being charged with a new offense, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Lucas Jackson was on probation in Indiana when he moved to Kentucky and had his probation transferred there. A condition of his probation stated that he “shall not commit any act(s) which would be a crime during the period of the probation.”

The state alleged Jackson violated his probation when he was indicted in Kentucky on charges of sexual abuse involving a 12-year-old victim. The indictment was the only evidence introduced during a hearing on the probation violation. His probation officer testified the grand jury indictment constituted a violation of Jackson’s probation. Perry Circuit Judge Mary Lucille Goffinet concluded Jackson violated his probation and at another hearing, revoked it and ordered Jackson serve his previously suspended sentence.

The Court of Appeals reversed because his probation was revoked based solely on the charges in Kentucky being filed against him. The state has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Jackson committed the offense, which it did not do in this case, the judges held.•

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  2. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

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  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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