ILNews

Court of Appeals again denies prisoner's suit

Rebecca Berfanger
January 1, 2007
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Yet another one of Westville prisoner Eric Smith's lawsuits has made its way to the Court of Appeals.

In an opinion released today, Eric Smith v. Indiana Department of Correction, et al., 46A03-0607-CV-327, the Court of Appeals affirms the trial court's decision of case 46D03-0410-CT-365.

Pro se, Smith filed the complaint against the Department of Correction and numerous individual employees regarding the grant of the Department of Corrections motion for judgment on the pleadings, the denial of Smith's request for appointment of counsel, the denial of his request to amend his complaint, and the denial of his motion to compel discovery.

According to the online Indiana Appellate Court docket, Smith has filed at least 22 suits making their way to appeals over the years. That doesn't include a Supreme Court decision appointing a special judge to consider one claim, and three criminal post-conviction decisions from appellate judges. The docket lists seven of Smith's cases for 2007.

Smith entered the state's prison system after being convicted of arson in 2001. He was found guilty of starting a fire in an apartment complex that left 12 families homeless and resulted in $2 million in damages. He was sentenced to 20 years.

The issues Smith introduced in this most recent case to make it to the Court of Appeals regarded an incident on June 18, 2004 - the same day he was incarcerated in the Maximum Control Facility in Westville - in which other prisoners attempted to flood the prison after they did not receive lunch.

When Smith saw feces and toilet paper in water that flooded into his cell, he kicked on the cell door to get the attention of prison officers. The officers told him they had been instructed to get Smith's tennis shoes, but he refused.

One of the guards had the cell extraction team come for Smith, and when he still refused, he was sprayed with mace and "mace pellets" that "caused his skin to break, bleed and bruise," according to the opinion.

On Oct. 28, 2004, Smith filed a complaint against the DOC alleging negligence and requested appointment of counsel. On Nov. 10, 2004, the trial court denied his request, finding it was unlikely that he would prevail on his claims.

The 19-page opinion continues to document further complaints and motions Smith has filed in trial court. The opinion also considers Smith's claim that the prison guards should not be shielded by the Indiana Tort Claims Act because Smith claimed the cell extraction team was not properly authorized, and therefore the officers were acting outside of the scope of their employment.

However, the Court of Appeals denied this claim, stating that "enforcing discipline and maintaining prison security is clearly within the prison officers' scope of employment. As such, Smith cannot prevail on his claim against the prison officers individually."

Indiana Lawyer reported about Smith's cases in the July 26-Aug. 8, 2006, edition.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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