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Indiana Court decisions - Feb. 9-22, 2012

February 29, 2012

For Publication opinions on Indiana cases released by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Tax Court during this issue’s reporting period are highlighted in this section of the Indiana Lawyer. To read the complete opinion issued in any of these cases, visit www.theindianalawyer.com and search by case name.

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

February 9

Civil – Inmate Rights

Sammie L. Booker-El v. Superintendent, Indiana State Prison and all agents

10-1490

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the decision in the Northern District of Indiana that an inmate has no property interest in prison recreation funds.

Inmate Sammie Booker-El filed a pro se suit against prison officials claiming they were misappropriating money from the inmates’ recreation fund. The money from this fund comes from sources outside of the state budget and officials can use the money to purchase recreational items or for a purpose not already covered under existing state appropriations. Booker-El’s suit claimed that he has been denied his property interest in the fund without due process of the law.

The District Court ruled that because neither the Constitution nor United States laws mandated that state penal facilities maintain an inmates’ recreation fund or dictate how money in such funds be spent, Booker-El could only state a claim if Indiana law provided the inmates with a property interest in the fund. The District judged examined Indiana Code 4-24-6-6 and concluded that the statute did not give inmates a property interest in the fund. The case was dismissed.

The Indiana statute in question requires only that if prison officials decide to spend money from the fund, it must be spent for the direct benefit of prisoners. The statute doesn’t impose any obligation for officials to spend the money within a given period of time, and the statute also gives officials discretion to transfer a recreation fund from one institution to another without consulting any inmates, wrote Judge Michael Kanne.

“Therefore, prison officials were free to transfer the entirety of the inmates’ recreation fund at the Indiana State Prison to another institution at any time without notice. Given this discretion, Booker-El has no legitimate expectation to any benefit derived from the inmates’ recreation fund, and thus no protected property interest,” he wrote.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the Southern District of Indiana, sat by designation on this case.

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February 14

Civil – Insurance/Language of Policy

St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company v. Schilli Transportation Services, Inc.

11-2307

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., holding that the language of its insurance policy creates a question of liability for deductible payments.

Schilli Transportation Services claimed that under its insurance policy provided by St. Paul Fire & Marine, the liability for deductibles is unclear.

The 7th Circuit said Schilli’s policy states the “words you, your and yours mean the insured named here, which is a CORPORATION.” The policy document lists Schilli’s name and address, but also states “Insured Names Continued on Back.” On the back of the document, eight more companies are listed.

The fact that the policy names nine companies as insured, along with the manner they were listed, could indicate that the companies were the “you, your and yours” referred to in the document. But the 7th Circuit concludeed that language is not sufficient in and of itself to create joint and several liability among defendants for the deductibles. The Circuit Court also wrote that no language clearly indicates that the liability is joint, not separate, and it remanded for further proceedings.

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February 17

Criminal – Sex with a Minor/Crossing State Lines

United States of America v. Samuel T. Henzel

11-2293

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 135-month sentence given to a man who drove from Illinois to have sex with a 12-year-old Westfield girl, finding that although the District Court miscalculated the imprisonment range, the defendant was sentenced within the correct guidelines range.

Samuel Henzel met the girl online through a chat room about online video games. The two began texting and talking and made plans to meet. The girl did not know Henzel was really 29, although he knew she was 12. When she met him she was surprised by his age, but she agreed to go to a hotel with him. She became uncomfortable and told him she didn’t want to do anything, but he gave her alcohol and drugs and tried to have sex with her.

Henzel pleaded guilty to traveling across state lines with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. There was confusion by the government and the courts as to whether the base level under the sentencing guidelines included a cross-reference to another section of the law, which would require a higher sentencing range. The District Court determined that the government didn’t meet the burden to allow the cross-reference, applied a base level offense of 24, added levels due to circumstances of the crime, and then subtracted three levels because Henzel accepted responsibility.

The judge came up with an offense level of 27, which would have a guideline imprisonment range of 70 to 87 months. She sentenced him above the range to 135 months due to the victim’s age, because Henzel gave her drugs and alcohol, and because the girl told him she did not want to have sex with him.  

Henzel appealed the sentence, claiming the District Court sentenced him four years above the guidelines. The 7th Circuit found the District Court actually miscalculated the applicable guidelines range because the cross-reference applied in Henzel’s case. Had the District judge applied the cross-reference, the total offense level would have ended up at 31, to which the applicable imprisonment range would be 108 to 135 months.



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