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COA reversal of truck forfeiture allows movie fan to drive off into the sunset

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In a reversal of a trial court’s ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a man who pleaded guilty to selling pirated movies should not have had his truck taken by the state because violating copyright is not the same as stealing goods.

Michael Curtis contended the trial court abused its discretion by denying his Indiana Trial Rule 60(B) motion for relief from judgment following the forfeiture of his truck. The COA reversed and remanded with instructions after finding Curtis had “established extraordinary circumstances” justifying relief in Michael L. Curtis v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1203-MI-271. 

In December 2009, the state charged Michael Curtis with four counts of Class D felony fraud for selling pirated movies from his truck. It later filed a compliant for forfeiture of Curtis’ truck under I.C. 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(B) (2009) which allows the seizure of vehicles if they are used to transport any stolen property worth $100 or more.

Curtis pleaded guilty in February 2011 to one count of fraud.

The state then filed a motion of summary judgment in the forfeiture action. The trial court granted the state’s motion and ordered the truck taken.

Subsequently, Curtis filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment Pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(1), (3), or (8). In the motion, Curtis again stated his attorney did not notify him of the forfeiture order. He also challenged the forfeiture on the grounds that the pirated movies did not constitute stolen property, specifically citing  Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207, 105 S. Ct. 3127, 87 L Ed. 2d 152 (1985).

The trial court denied the motion without a hearing. Curtis appealed, contending the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for relief from judgment.

The COA agreed with Curtis. It found, as Dowling held, that the property rights of a copyright holder are different than the same rights of an owner of goods, wares or merchandise. It also pointed to I.C. 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(B) which, the court held, clearly allows forfeiture in cases of theft or conversion but says nothing about copyright infringement or even fraud.

Since the forfeiture of the truck was not authorized by the statute, the COA concluded that Curtis had established extraordinary circumstances justifying relief.

 

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