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7th Circuit blasts counsel, tosses race-based traffic-stop appeal

December 13, 2013

An Elkhart man failed to show a traffic stop and drunken-driving arrest was unconstitutional in an appeal that a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected with an opinion blasting his lawyer’s work.

The panel affirmed summary judgment on behalf of the city of Elkhart, city police officers and others involved in the arrest in Kenny A. Jones, Sr. v. City of Elkhart, Indiana, et al., 12-3912.

Judge Theresa Springmann of the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Hammond had ruled for the city on Jones’ claims that his arrest violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and that his race was a factor in the stop.

Jones was stopped in the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 2008, when Elkhart police said he was driving more than 50 mph in a 35-mph zone and that he crossed the center line. He appeared to be intoxicated, and a breath test revealed a blood alcohol content of .09 percent, just above the legal limit. He was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
 
Jones argued Elkhart police stopped him without probable cause and alleged the city had an institutionalized practice of “stopping of citizens without probable cause based on race.”

But Judge John Tinder wrote for the 7th Circuit panel that Springmann rightly found for the city by granting summary judgment on her own motion, noting that the panel was perplexed by Jones’ appeal that seemed to have waived the race argument.

“Counsel for Jones stated his claims broadly and vaguely. He listed a series of irrelevant facts untethered to any legal claims, and asserted constitutional injury without specifying what provisions of the Constitution were violated and how,” Tinder wrote.

“Unfortunately, on appeal, counsel fashioned his brief in a similar manner. … The argument section of Jones’s brief recite legal standards for the elements of the case but offer us no analysis on how to apply them to the facts at hand,” he wrote.

Springmann’s grant of summary judgment on her own motion was not improper, the panel held, noting defendants didn’t brief Jones’ equal protection argument in essence because it wasn’t clear from the pleadings what exactly he alleged.

“It is not difficult to see why Defendants had difficult grappling with the legal claims at play in this case,” Tinder wrote. “The complaint is drafted in broad, generalized strokes. … (I)t is by no means a clearly presented argument to which Defendants failed to respond, either out of irresponsible lawyering or some tactical decision to conceal the equal protection claim.”

       
 

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