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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