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Full appeals court decides on IPAS case

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Nine months ago, a federal judge in Indianapolis refused to dismiss a case about the state's practices and programs regarding mentally ill inmates, finding an independent state agency had a right to sue on those issues.

But within a week, a three-judge federal appellate panel ruled the opposite way against that the same plaintiff in a different suit, essentially sweeping that first ruling by U.S. Judge David F. Hamilton under a legal rug and forcing him to reconsider the dismissal.

The case that Judge Hamilton handled remains ongoing and is set for bench trial early next year, but not before Judge Hamilton because he's since been elevated to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now as an appellate jurist and writing for the full court en banc, Judge Hamilton today found a chance to weigh in on identical issues he'd faced a year ago at the lower court level.

Writing for eight other majority members who disagreed with the one dissenter, Judge Hamilton authored a 63-page opinion that essentially came to the same conclusion that he'd reached on the other case - finding the agency has a right to sue and not dismissing the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services suit.

In rehearing en banc the case of Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services v. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, et al. No. 08-3183, the appellate court articulately delved into legislative history and intent as well as caselaw to come up with a decision that touches on broader issues about states rights and federalist principles about when court jurisdiction is appropriate.

The court affirmed a decision from U.S. Judge Larry McKinney, removing the state of Indiana and Family and Social Services Administration as defendants but keeping alive the claims against the named state officials. Specifically, the court held the 11th Amendment does not bar plaintiff IPAS from seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against the state officials because the federal Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act of 1986 provides that cause of action, and that plaintiff is entitled to access peer review records of treatment of covered mentally ill patients.

Basically, the court held the opposite of what the three-judge panel found last summer: the agency doesn't have standing to bring suits in federal court because of the 11th amendment and state statutes haven't given IPAS the powers listed in 42 U.S.C Sections 10805 and 10806.

Filed in late 2006, 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. Judge Larry McKinney had decided the defendants had to hand over the records because the victim was an adult and her parents weren't appointed her legal guardians, but the FSSA argued releasing the records would violate the victim's parents' privacy.

Relying the three principal types of exceptions to the 11th Amendment's bar, the majority found that the Supreme Court of the United States has held immunity goes away once a state official acts outside the scope of his or her authority.

"Congress gave each state the choice to establish a protection and advocacy system as either an independent state agency or a private not-for-profit entity," Judge Hamilton wrote. "Indiana made the choice to set up IPAS as an independent state agency. If we gave that choice any weight in the 11th Amendment inquiry, we would be permitting Indiana to use its own choice ... as a means to shield its state hospitals and institutions from the very investigative and oversight powers that Congress funded to protect some of the state's most vulnerable citizens. That result would be strange indeed."

Judge Richard Posner issued a concurring opinion, noting that he joins the majority "without reservation" but wrote separately to emphasize what he sees as practical considerations on the right to sue to obtain patient records for the mentally ill.

"Independent as it is of the governor and the attorney general, IPAS is a state entity in name only, especially in a suit against a state hospital - there it's an agent of the federal government, suing to assure a state's compliance with the federal duties of care for the mentally ill that the state agreed to perform," Judge Posner wrote. "It would be strange if a state could render the federal statute unenforceable by creating (or appointing) a public rather than a private protection and advocacy agent, or if the statute were unenforceable against state hospitals even though there is (as I think we all agree) no issue of state sovereign immunity."

Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook was the sole dissenter, saying that he would have dismissed the suit and let the administrative process take its course.

"Both (plaintiffs and defendants) believe that they have the patients' interests at heart, though they disagree about how to serve those interests," he wrote. "Fights between two state agencies should be resolved within the state (including the state's judiciary, if state law so provides, or through the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services which administers the federal grant program. This statute establishes a program of cooperative federalism. Cooperation usually requires negotiation and compromise among multiple public bodies. That is the way of the administrative rather than the judicial process."

The chief judge pointed out the majority's rationale seems to fundamentally conflict with SCOTUS precedent. He wrote, "Perhaps my colleagues have a wise view as a matter of policy, but the Supreme Court's perspective is the one we must use in a hierarchical judicial system."

If this ruling stands and isn't appealed to the nation's highest court, it would likely impact the case of IPAS v. Indiana Department of Correction, 1:08-CV-11317, which Judge Hamilton had decided on July 21, 2009, and is now before Chief Judge Richard L. Young. A motion for class certification is pending and the federal court docket shows a five-day bench trial is set for July 25, 2011.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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