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. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

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  4. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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