Court: Suit doesn't belong in federal court

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In a ruling that could impact pending litigation involving Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided the agency doesn't have standing to bring suits in federal court.

Just last week, U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton of the Southern District of Indiana held in a separate suit brought by IPAS against the Indiana Department of Correction that IPAS could sue in federal court because it's independent of the governor and is funded by the federal government under the Protection and Advocacy of Mentally Ill Individuals Act (PAIMI).

But in Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services v. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, et al., No. 089-3183, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided today IPAS would have to file its suit in state court. IPAS sued FSSA, LaRue Carter Memorial Hospital, and several state officials in order to gain records on a mentally disabled adult patient who died while at LaRue Carter to find out if she was a victim of abuse. The District Court held the defendants had to hand over the records because the victim was an adult and her parents weren't appointed her legal guardians. FSSA argued releasing the records would violate the victim's parents' privacy.

Instead of ruling on the issue of whether the records should have been released, the Circuit judges examined whether IPAS even had standing to sue in federal court. The federal statutes that created systems like IPAS to investigate abuse and neglect of people with mental illness don't give them an express right of action, wrote Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook. Also, Indiana hasn't enacted legislation or promulgated regulations giving IPAS the powers listed in 42 U.S.C Sections 10805 and 10806.

IPAS also can't pursue a federal suit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, because it's a state actor and not a person for purposes of the statute.

"Indiana might have established its 'system' as a private entity, the way legal services corporations are organized," wrote the chief judge. "But because Advocacy Services is a public agency rather than a private corporation or foundation, it cannot use Section1983 and must sue in state rather than federal court."

The federal appellate court also ruled the 11th Amendment bars the suit in federal court. Chief Judge Easterbrook likened the instant case to Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627 (1999), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held the 11th Amendment blocks enforcement of patent claims against states and their agencies.

"We do not see any reason why patent holders should be turned away on grounds of sovereign immunity while other demands concerning information in state hands would be unaffected by that doctrine," he wrote.

The 7th Circuit vacated the District Court's judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss for want of jurisdiction. It also noted some future decisions will need to tackle the problems that arise when a "system" established as a private organization sues in federal court to obtain information from a private medical provider or when it sues its home state in state court.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues