A Fort Wayne man who claims he’s being prevented from becoming an Indiana attorney because of his religious beliefs is asking the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether a lower federal court properly dismissed his case.
Bryan K. Brown filed an opening brief earlier this week with the federal appellate court, contending that the federal courts should be able to decide his constitutional claims even though they relate to action from the Indiana Supreme Court that prevented him from becoming an attorney.
Admitted and in good standing as an attorney in Kansas, Brown filed this suit in the Northern District of Indiana in late 2009 on grounds that he was improperly required to go through the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program and that the Board of Law Examiners and Indiana Supreme Court rejected his admission to the state bar.
He contends that an Indiana law license would allow him use the legal system on behalf of pro-life and other traditional Christian causes through the ArchAngel Institute that he created several years ago, but the BLE determined his application to take the bar exam should be denied and that he can’t seek admission again until 2014. Brown raised two-dozen constitutional arguments against JLAP director Terry Harrell, program psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Bowman, and Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, as well as several others involved in his case.
In March 2011, U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann dismissed Brown’s case and found that precedent prevents her as a federal judge from addressing what was a state-court action prohibiting his admission. She relied on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine that involves two rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923 and 1983, which together hold federal District courts lack jurisdiction over lawsuits from state-court losers and that any jurisdiction remains solely with the nation’s highest court. In Brown’s case, the SCOTUS has already denied his petition for writ of certiorari.
Judge Springmann relied on 7th Circuit precedent from a decade ago to determine that Brown’s claims are “inextricably intertwined” with the state action and that the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction to issue a decision on his constitutional claims.
“The Plaintiff is correct that he is not asking the Court directly to review the Indiana Supreme Court’s order. However, the Court cannot allow artful pleading or argument to obscure what the practical effect of any potential judgment would be – a review and modification of the Indiana Supreme Court’s final order,” she wrote.
The judge also dismissed Brown’s other claims based on immunity arguments, finding that the state defendants are entitled to immunity through the 11th Amendment or as witnesses.
Now, Brown is asking the 7th Circuit to overturn Judge Springmann’s ruling and find the Rooker-Feldman doctrine doesn’t apply to his case. Brown raises questions about the scope of the doctrine and the reach of expert witness immunity, based on his contentions that defendants in this case weren’t properly sworn in under oath and therefore are prevented from being dubbed “witnesses” as required by the state.
The state defendants have until mid-August to file response briefs in the appeal.
This is one of three similar suits filed in recent years against the Indiana Supreme Court, Board of Law Examiners, or JLAP relating to how individuals are admitted to practice in this state.
Another case filed by Clarence Carter involved arguments that the state was improperly requiring him to attend law school before sitting for the bar exam, but a Southern District judge and the 7th Circuit have dismissed that suit.
In July 2009, a Porter County woman filed a federal suit against the BLE in Amanda Perdue, et al. v. The Individual Members of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, No. 1:09-CV-842, charging that certain questions regarding fitness violate her Americans with Disabilities Act-rights relating to mental health. That case remains pending before U.S. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the Southern District, and the arguments that had been scheduled for July 22 have been continued until Aug. 24.