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COA affirms dismissal of complaint

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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An Anderson man who filed a complaint against the officers that arrested him and two police departments filed his civil action outside of the statute of limitation, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled April 28.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court in Jon S. Johnson v. Stephon Blackwell, et al., No. 49A02-0709-CV-759, that Johnson filed his four-count complaint against two detectives, the Madison County Sheriff's Department, and the Anderson Police Department after the two-year statute of limitations expired.

After receiving a tip in late February 2003 that Johnson had a large amount of drugs in his home, detectives Stephon Blackwell and Cliff Cole went to Johnson's house to investigate. The detectives told Johnson about the anonymous tip and asked to search his home. Johnson denied drugs were inside and started down a hallway, which caused Blackwell to draw his gun and tell Johnson that his walking away was a safety issue for the detectives. Johnson came back toward the detectives and allowed them to enter the home and search. The detectives found a package of crack cocaine in a dresser.

Johnson was charged in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, with possession with the intent to distribute crack cocaine. In March, Johnson moved to suppress the evidence, arguing his consent was involuntary. The District Court denied his motion and convicted him in May. Johnson appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed Johnson's conviction and remanded the case to the District Court in October 2005. The indictment was dismissed in July 2006.

In November 2006, Johnson filed his complaint against the defendants alleging civil rights violations, false imprisonment/false arrest, wrongful infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy by intrusion. All the counts were based on the February 2003 search of his home. The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) because his complaint was barred by the two-year statute of limitations governing injury to person.

Indiana Code Section 34-11-2-4 says an action for injury to a person must start within two years after the cause of action accrues. The appellate court determined the start dates for each of Johnson's counts, finding the start date for the civil rights violation, wrongful infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy by intrusion counts began on the day the police searched his home.

Citing Livingston v. Consolidated City of Indianapolis, 398 N.E.2d 1302, 1303 (Ind. Ct. App. 1979) and Wallace v. Kato, 127 S. Ct. 1091 (2007), the Court of Appeals found Johnson's cause of action for false imprisonment/false arrest accrued when he was bound for trial in March 2003, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

Even though Johnson's criminal litigation was still pending within the two-year statute of limitations, he should have filed the civil litigation, which would have been stayed until the outcome of his criminal case, she wrote.

"There is nothing that prevented Johnson from filing his civil complaint while his criminal case was pending. ... This is especially so given that when the Seventh Circuit remanded Johnson's criminal case in 2004, which was still within the statute of limitations, the court said that it was a "close question" of whether the detectives had reasonable suspicion to seize Johnson," she wrote.
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