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COA rules on excessive force under ITCA

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The use of excessive force is not conduct immunized under section 3(8) of the Indiana Tort Claims Act, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In Richard Patrick Wilson and Billy Don Wilson v. Gene Isaacs, Sheriff of Cass County, and Brad Craven, No. 09A05-0906-CV-344, the appellate court had to determine if the trial court correctly granted summary judgment for Cass County Sheriff Gene Isaacs in the Wilsons' suit alleging injuries as a result of excessive force.

Deputy Brad Craven was called to a party held at Billy Don Wilson's house in response to a report that the Wilsons' brother, Carl, had punched a juvenile in the head. The account of the events following Craven's arrival differed among the parties: Craven said Patrick Wilson grabbed him from behind and wasn't compliant with his orders, so Craven ultimately fired his Taser at him. Patrick said he tapped the deputy on the shoulder to show him the person at the party the deputy was looking for when Craven pulled out his Taser and yelled at Patrick. Patrick claimed he was shot with the Taser after not knowing which of the deputy's commands to obey. The three Wilson brothers were arrested.

There's been some confusion whether the ITCA law enforcement immunity provision applies to claims for injuries resulting from the use of excessive force during a detention or arrest, noted Judge James Kirsch.

In 1993, the Indiana Supreme Court issued Quakenbush v. Lackey, 622 N.E.2d 1284 (Ind. 1993), which held section 3(8) of the ITCA conferred immunity to law enforcement officials for breaches of public duties owed to the public at large, but didn't shelter officers who breached private duties owed to individuals. In Kemezy v. Peters, 622 N.E.2d 1296 (Ind. 1993), the high court found that law enforcement officers owed a private duty to refrain from using excessive force when making arrests and the use of excessive force isn't conduct immunized by section 3(8).

The high court later criticized the public duty/private duty test used in Quakenbush in Benton v. Oakland City, 721 N.E.2d 224, 230 (Ind. 1999), but didn't expressly overrule Quakenbush. The Supreme Court in another case later explained Benton overruled the public/private duty test at common law.

There are questions as to whether Kemezy still remains good law, wrote Judge Kirsch, noting Kemezy is directly on point with the instant case and has not been overruled. The judges followed the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana's reasoning on Kemezy to conclude the use of excessive force is not conduct immunized under section 3(8) of the ITCA.

"Therefore, consistent with the holding in Kemezy, police officers and the governmental entities that employ them can be found liable for excessive force claims despite the immunity coverage of the ITCA," he wrote. "Until our Supreme Court overrules Kemezy, we cannot conclude as a matter of law that the Sheriff is immune from liability for the Wilsons' excessive force claim based solely on the ITCA."

The trial court was correct in granting summary judgment in favor of the sheriff as to the state law claims against Craven individually. The Wilsons complained Craven acted outside the scope of his employment, but didn't present a reasonable factual basis supporting the allegations as required under Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-5(c). The undisputed evidence established Craven was acting within the scope of his employment, wrote the judge.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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