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Indiana Court Decisions - July 9 to 22, 2014

IL Staff
July 30, 2014
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7th Circuit Courtof Appeals

July 10

Civil – Disability Benefits

Cheryl Beardsley v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security

13-3609

Finding the “logical bridge” between evidence and conclusion that is needed to affirm a denial of disability benefits was not “sound” in a case before them, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s affirmation of the denial of a woman’s Social Security disability benefits.

“The logical bridge was not sound here. The ALJ relied on three principal grounds to find that Ms. Beardsley could do light work: (1) her description of her own capabilities and daily activities, (2) the opinion of Dr. Brill, and (3) Ms. Beardsley’s conservative course of treatment, including her decision not to seek surgery. … [N]one of these factors, considered individually or collectively, provides adequate support for the ALJ’s conclusion that Ms. Beardsley could perform work more demanding than sedentary work,” Judge David Hamilton wrote.

Dr. M. Brill, a Social Security Administration physician, found that applicant Cheryl Beardsley could stand or walk for about six hours out of an eight-hour workday and she could occasionally climb stairs, kneel or do other activities.

Beardsley was 49 at the time she fell and injured her knee. She did not have surgery, but did receive shots for her existing arthritis in that knee. She was also obese. She applied for disability benefits and was evaluated by two agency doctors – Brill, who went by the paper record, and Dr. Larry Banyash, who examined her. Banyash thought she was capable of sedentary work, but based on other factors, would qualify as disabled.

The federal appeals court found the ALJ’s failure to consider evidence that Beardsley was bothered by her knee enough to consider having the operation as well as her concerns about how she would pay for the surgery was a legal error. The record doesn’t support his explanation for discounting Banyash’s opinion, and the judges were troubled by the ALJ’s reliance on Beardsley’s care that she provided for her mother as the main reason to discount the evidence of her physical limitations. Most of what Beardsley did at her mother’s house was sedentary – playing cards, watching television or preparing simple meals.

“These tasks ‘differ dramatically’ from the type of jobs the ALJ believe Ms. Beardsley was capable of performing, and lend no support to the conclusion that she would be able to spend six hours a day, every day, on her feet working.”

The judges sent the case back to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.

Civil – Sexual Discrimination/Retaliation

Stephanie Sue Carlson v. CSX Transportation

13-1944 and 13-2054

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated sex discrimination and retaliation claims from a woman who alleges she was denied opportunities to advance as a railroad yardmaster with CSX Transportation Inc.

Stephanie Sue Carlson worked for years as a clerk and substitute yardmaster at CSX facilities in Birmingham, Ala., and in Evansville, but her Title VII suit alleges the railroad denied her opportunities to rise in the company and awarded promotions she sought to less-qualified male counterparts.

Most of the allegations were dismissed by Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division, but the Circuit panel reversed.

“We conclude that none of her claims should have been dismissed. The allegations in her complaint are easily sufficient to state claims for sex discrimination and retaliation,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the panel. The panel also rejected CSX’s cross-motion for summary judgment and remanded to the District Court for further proceedings.
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July 14

Civil – Marriage Solemnization Statute

Center for Inquiry, Inc., and Reba Boyd Wooden v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk and Marion County Prosecutor

12-3751

Finding that Indiana’s statute specifying who may solemnize marriage “discriminates arbitrarily among religious and ethical beliefs,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state must allow certified secular humanist celebrants to perform wedding ceremonies.

The 7th Circuit reversed a judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The unanimous 7th Circuit panel ordered the lower court to issue an injunction enabling certified secular humanist celebrants to legally solemnize marriage in Indiana.

Indiana Code 31-11-6-1 which allows religious clergy and state officials, such as judges, mayors and county clerks, to perform marriage ceremonies was challenged by the Center for Inquiry on the grounds that the statute omits the equivalent officials from secular groups, such as humanists societies. The center argued the state’s marriage solemnization statute violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by giving some religions a privileged role.

The state countered that humanists are not excluded under the statute. It contended a humanist group could meet the statute’s requirements for solemnizing marriages simply by calling itself a religion; or, the humanist celebrant could conduct an “extra-legal ceremony” which would be followed by the couple making a trip to the local courthouse to have the clerk perform a legal solemnization.

The 7th Circuit rejected that argument, saying the “ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in the back office,” does not address the injury of which the humanists complain.  

Taking a closer examination of Indiana’s statute, the 7th Circuit concluded that the state not only discriminates against non-religious ethical groups but also discriminates among religions by preferring those that have clergy and consider marriage to be sacred.

Consequently, the 7th Circuit ruled the Indiana marriage solemnization statute violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

“It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriage if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a ‘religion,’” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court. “It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the ‘values’ of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.”

The 7th Circuit also noted if Indiana amends its statute to allow notaries to solemnize marriages, then the District Court should be receptive to a motion to modify the injunction.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he is evaluating options to appeal the 7th Circuit’s ruling.

Reiterating his office has a duty to defend state laws, Zoeller said “we contend the Legislature’s requirements for determining who can solemnize a marriage for the purpose of filing a marriage license at the county clerk’s office were reasonable and included alternatives for couples without involving clergy.”

The Attorney General characterized the ruling as narrow but raising an important question of state legislative authority.
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July 21

Civil – Sex-Discrimination/Hostile Work Environment

Connie J. Orton-Bell v. State of Indiana

13-1235

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a former Department of Correction substance abuse counselor’s lawsuit alleging sex-discrimination and hostile work environment, finding she was treated differently as compared to the employee she had an affair with while working at a maximum-security prison.

Connie J. Orton-Bell, who worked at Pendleton Correctional Facility for two years, began an affair with Major Joe Ditmer, a 25-year veteran of the DOC who was in charge of custody at the facility. They had sexual intercourse in Ditmer’s office and off-site. Officials suspected the two were having an affair and began an investigation. At this time, officials also were investigating Orton-Bell’s claim that she and another young female employee’s desks appeared to have been used at night. The investigation revealed that night staff would have sex on their desks. DOC officials told Orton-Bell that they didn’t care as long as staff wasn’t having sex with inmates and that she should wash down the desk every morning.

After Orton-Bell and Ditmer admitted to having an affair, they were both terminated, but Ditmer was allowed to resign, keep his benefits and be hired as a contractor and continue working at the facility. Orton-Bell was not given the same type of agreement and had difficulty obtaining unemployment benefits.

She sued, alleging sex-discrimination, hostile work environment and a retaliation claim based on her complaint about staff using her desk for sex. Her hostile work environment claim was based on explicit sexual comments male staffers directed toward her, and that she and other female employees would be patted down for longer periods of time in front of male staffers as they ogled and made sexual comments.

The state moved for summary judgment on her claims, which the District Court granted. But the 7th Circuit reversed on her sex-discrimination and hostile work environment claims. The judges found that the unending barrage of sexual comments made toward her supported her hostile work claim, but there is no evidence that staff used her desk at night because she was a woman.

“The conduct was disgusting, but that night-shift employees were using a conveniently private, secure yet accessible office for sex does not indicate that they were doing so because the office’s daytime occupant was a woman,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote.

The 7th Circuit affirmed regarding her retaliation claim for the same reason, noting she failed to establish that she had engaged in a protected activity.

The judges found that Ditmer could be considered a similarly situated employee as Orton-Bell and that he received more favorable treatment after their affair was discovered by officials.

“Firing the Major in Charge of Custody for an affair which compromised his ability to lead (especially given his repeated past violations of the conduct code) makes sense,” Manion wrote. “But letting him resign and retain the ability to keep working (with all attendant benefits) while firing the female counselor with whom he had an affair is suspect.”

The case is remanded for further proceedings.

Indiana Supreme Court

July 10

Juvenile – Termination of Parental Rights

In re the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of K.W., a Minor Child, and His Mother, C.C.; K.W. v. Indiana Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, Inc.

49S02-1407-JT-458

A juvenile court abused it discretion by proceeding with a hearing and terminating a mother’s parental rights in her absence because she was in jail, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled. Her attorney’s failure to ensure she was heard from also denied her a fair hearing, justices ruled.

Justices vacated a termination order by Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores. The mother’s attorney filed a motion for continuance until the mother was released.

“The trial court denied this request and held the hearing in the mother’s absence — the end result was the termination of her parental rights with respect to her son. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that the denial of the motion for a continuance was an abuse of discretion,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court.

Two-year-old K.W. was declared a child in need of services a month after he was born after repeated instances in which his mother and father discontinued services, tested positive for drugs or were arrested, according to the record.

But the opinion notes that the hearing already had twice been continued, and found the judgment had to be vacated  because the mother, though represented by counsel, was deprived an opportunity to be heard from in any manner at the termination hearing.

The court relied upon the 11-factor test adopted in In re C.G., Z.G. v. Marion Department of Child Services, 954 N.E.2d 910, 922 (Ind. 2011), to reach its conclusion, while noting that test is typically applied to a motion to transport an incarcerated parent to a termination hearing.

“(T)he trial court opted to carry out a proceeding by which C.C.’s fundamental rights to parental autonomy were challenged, attacked, and taken away – without C.C.’s personal participation in any way,” the court held. “When viewed in such a light, we cannot help but find that C.C. showed good cause why her motion should be granted, and to do otherwise was clearly against the logic and circumstances of the case.”

The opinion also notes the mother’s attorney “certainly could have – and probably should have” tried to arrange for her to be transported to the hearing.

“So while it is true that C.C.’s attorney attempted to mount a defense by cross-examining DCS witnesses and putting on one of his own, that is a far cry from saying that C.C. was heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner and far from being fundamentally fair – and it was therefore prejudicial,” the court held.
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July 22

Criminal – Conspiracy to Commit Robbery

Kenyatta Erkins v. State of Indiana

58S01-1309-CR-586.

Citing an issue of first impression, the majority on the Indiana Supreme Court concluded that a man could be convicted of Class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery even though the targeted victim was not robbed or harmed in any way.

Kenyatta Erkins and Ugbe Ojile staked out an Indiana casino to find a person to rob. Erkins’ phone was being monitored by police because they believed the men had committed more than 25 robberies involving victims who had won money at a casino. Ojile went inside the casino, found a target, and called Erkins giving him updates. The man decided to stay the night at the casino, so Erkins and Ojile decide to wait until he left to rob him. They discussed over the phone their plans, which included saying the target may be a “problem” and they might “rough him up.”

The next day, police stopped them in Erkins’ car and found several items, including guns, camouflage clothing and duct tape. The two were charged with Class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury and Class A felony attempt to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. The men claimed the conspiracy charge cannot stand because there is insufficient evidence to support it because no actual injury to the targeted victim occurred.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, as did Justices Steven David, Mark Massa and Loretta Rush.

“It may be helpful to think of conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury as consisting of effectively two ‘mini-conspiracies’ within one crime: a conspiracy to commit robbery and a conspiracy to commit serious bodily injury in the course of the robbery. Each ‘mini-conspiracy’ requires the State to establish intent, agreement, and the commission of an overt act in furtherance of the agreement,” David wrote.

But in Justice Robert Rucker’s dissent – to which Chief Justice Brent Dickson joined – Rucker finds David’s view of “mini-conspiracies” to be an inappropriate analogy because it requires treating the bodily injury component as an element of the crime. But serious bodily injury is not an element of robbery and thus not an element of conspiracy, he wrote. It is a penalty enhancement that increases the class of the offense that kicks in only where the offense “results in serious bodily injury.”

“[T]he result the majority reaches today creates something of an anomaly. Codefendants who combine their efforts to rob a victim can have their sentences enhanced only upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt that their conduct resulted in bodily injury or serious bodily injury. By contrast, if those same codefendants conspire to rob a victim, and engage in the exact same conduct, their sentences may be enhanced even if bodily injury never occurs. With such a lethal weapon at its disposal why would the State ever charge a simple robbery offense? This is not a result our Legislature could have intended,” Rucker wrote.

The justices did all agree that the trial court did not err in permitting the state’s amendment to the charging information of Erkins during the second day of trial. The information originally said Erkins was conducting surveillance in the casino on the victim, but it was amended to put Ojile’s name. The particular identity of the co-conspirator performing the overt act is not essential to making a valid conspiracy charge, so the amendment was one of form and not substance, David wrote.

Indiana Court of Appeals

July 9

Civil Plenary – Public Records/Indiana Tort Claims Act

John Lane-El v. Michael Spears, in his official capacity of Chief of Police, and the Indianapolis Police Department

49A05-1306-PL-289

The inmate who filed a public records request with the Indianapolis Police Department nearly nine years ago lost his case on appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

John Lane-El was convicted of a sex crime that occurred in 1992 and was incarcerated when he filed his request in 2006 for public records with the Indianapolis Police Department under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act related to his criminal case. The police department did not initially respond to his request, and later, after a court order, produced only a redacted incident report. The city of Indianapolis’ public access counselor Lauren Toppen sent Lane-El the letter responding to his request, telling him that everything else was exempt from disclosure because it was compiled in the course of an investigation.

IPD eventually filed a motion to dismiss and Lane-El filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court ruled in 2013 in favor of the defendants and denied Lane-El’s motion for in camera review of the requested public records.

The Court of Appeals found the lower court erred in determining that IPD is not a public agency subject to the APRA and therefore not a proper party for the lawsuit. The police department qualifies as a law enforcement agency, so it fits the Act’s definition of “public agency.” The trial court also erred in determining that then-Chief of Police Michael Spears was not a proper party and concluding he was immune from suit under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. But Lane-El’s complaint does not allege a type of loss applicable to the ITCA, the judges found. They also found the chief is not a proper party to the suit because the APRA does not authorize an action to compel records against an individual.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the police department’s cross-motion for summary judgment because the public records Lane-El requested were “investigatory records” that were exempt from the APRA at IPD’s discretion. The judges rejected Lane-El’s argument that because the records were more than 20 years old and not part of an active investigation, they should be released.

They also found the trial court did not commit clear error in denying his motion for in camera review.

Civil Plenary – Notice for Relief

Salvino Verta, et al. v. Salvino Pucci

45A03-1309-PL-387

Because a county clerk did not apparently send out notice of a court order requiring a man to return a pizza oven to his partner in a bar, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial by the lower court of the man’s motion challenging a damages award stemming from his failure to return the oven.

Salvino Verta does not challenge the January 2013 order that required him to return the pizza oven to Salvino Pucci, but he does challenge the $114,000 in damages – $100 for every day Verta delayed in returning the oven that the court ordered him to pay in June. Verta claimed he never received notice of the January 2013 order or the April 2013 scheduling  order for the June hearing, and the chronological case summary entries on the matter don’t indicate that the clerk mailed notice.  Verta returned the pizza oven June 4, 2013.

Verta filed a motion to reconsider, correct error and motion from relief from judgment, seeking relief from the June order. He claimed had he received the orders he would have complied in all respects and appeared before the court. The trial court denied his motion to correct error.

Because the CCS does not contain any notation to indicate that the clerk had served the April 2013 scheduling order or the January 2013 order on Verta, the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion seeking relief from the June 2013 order. They ordered the lower court to hold a hearing to further determine what, if any, monetary damages should be awarded given the CCS’s lack of an entry to indicate notice was sent to Verta on the January 2013 order.

“While Verta might have been able to assume that the trial court would set a hearing on Pucci’s motion, the clerk had a duty to serve Verta with a copy of the scheduling order and to memorialize such action on the CCS,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote.

Civil Tort – Transfer of Venue

William M. Belcher v. Catherine Kroczek, D.D.S.

45A03-1311-CT-436

The Indiana Court of Appeals decided that the preferred venue of a woman’s lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend alleging defamation and other claims is in Marion County where the man resides and not in Lake County where she works. The opinion hinged upon whether there were chattels involved.

Catherine Kroczek and William Belcher dated for a few months in 2012 but broke up in September of that year. While dating, she told Belcher she had the herpes simplex virus. After they broke up, Belcher mailed letters to the dentistry offices where Kroczek worked, telling her employers and colleagues she had herpes and had infected “only a few people.” He also registered her on several websites without her knowledge regarding her health status.

She sued Belcher in Lake County, alleging he committed defamation per se, invasion of privacy, disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, identity theft and tortuous interference with a business relationship. He filed a motion to transfer to Marion County, where he lived, which was denied.

Kroczek claimed her reputation, privacy, identity and goodwill are intangible personal chattels under Trial Rule 75(A)(2), thus supporting Lake County as the preferred venue.

The courts have previously found the right to publicity or a money judgment is intangible personal chattel, but those rights are transferrable. But reputation, privacy and identity are not transferrable, Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. They are inherently different from patents, money judgments and publicity rights, so they are not chattels.

Goodwill may qualify as a chattel, but it can’t serve as the basis for preferred venue in this case because it does not allege an injury to enterprise goodwill, which is a business asset.

Belcher is entitled to transfer venue to Marion County based on his residence, the COA held.
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July 11

Criminal – Juror Replacement/Child Molesting

Scott A. Wright v. State of Indiana

45A05-1310-CR-526

A juror who gave the lone vote to acquit and eventually refused to deliberate did not meet the criteria for removal, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

The Court of Appeals vacated the conviction of Scott Wright for Class A felony child molesting and remanded for a new trial. The COA found the Lake Superior Court erred by removing Juror 356.

Two hours after deliberations had begun, the jury informed Judge Salvador Vasquez they were deadlocked. Juror 356 voted not guilty and could not be swayed to change his vote by the other jurors.

Several times the jury panel appealed to Vasquez, who asked them to continue trying to talk. Eventually, the other jurors said Juror 356 had stopped talking and appeared to be falling asleep.

Vasquez then granted the state’s motion and replaced the juror with an alternate. Explaining his reasoning for removal, the judge said, “It’s one thing to stick to your guns, it’s another to refuse to participate in the cooperative effort of deliberation.”

The Court of Appeals ruled the juror should not have been replaced because his behavior did not create an extreme situation that warranted removal. Pointing to Riggs v. State, 809 N.E.2d 322, 327 (Ind. 2004), the appeals court reiterated the criteria established by the Indiana Supreme Court for discharging a juror during deliberations.

 “Juror 356 voted for acquittal based on his determination the victim was not credible, and he would not change his mind,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the court. “His behavior does not fall within the category the Riggs Court characterized as ‘the most extreme situations where it can be shown that the removal of the juror (1) is necessary for the integrity of the process, (2) does not prejudice the deliberations of the rest of the panel, and (3) does not impair the party’s right to a trial by jury.’”

Protective Order – Workforce Violence Restraining Orders Act

A.H. v. C.E.G., on behalf of G.S.

49A05-1310-PO-525

An injunction against an employee who allegedly told a company therapist that he was going to blow his supervisor’s head off is void because it arose from a labor dispute, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The ruling came in a case in which the appeals court agreed to the employee’s request to seal the filings and identify all parties, including the company, by initials.

A.H. allegedly made the threat after suffering an unspecified workplace injury at C.E.G., and after phone calls in which the supervisor, G.S., told A.H. that he had been disrespectful. After G.S. asked A.H. to get a second opinion on his injury, A.H. called the company therapist, who alerted human resources about the alleged threat.

The employer petitioned the trial court for an injunction against A.H. under the Workforce Violence Restraining Orders Act, I.C. 34-26-6, which was granted. On appeal, A.H. argued the trial court had no jurisdiction since the petition arose from a labor dispute governed by the Anti-Injunction Act.

“We agree,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel that reversed the injunction and remanded with instructions it be dismissed.

“The AIA was intended to minimize judicial control of labor-related disputes,” Crone wrote. The statute is I.C. 22-6-1.

C.E.G. argued that the statute didn’t apply to A.H. because he wasn’t a union member and his actions weren’t related to organized labor, but the court sided with A.H.’s argument that such a position conflicted with the plain language of the Anti-Injunction Act. The court also discounted C.E.G.’s contention that the dispute between A.H. and G.S. was personal rather than an employment dispute.

“To the contrary, the evidence shows that A.H.’s alleged threat was made within a few days after A.H. suffered an injury at work, told G.S. that he disagreed with his work assignment and hours, and complained about preferential treatment for one employee.  ... A.H. knew that G.S. disapproved of the way he had expressed his dissatisfaction and that G.S. was going to document his behavior,” the panel found.

“Accordingly, we conclude that this case concerned a controversy over the terms and conditions of employment. In sum, we conclude that this case involves or grows out of a labor dispute and is governed by the AIA.”

Criminal – DNA Evidence/Criminal Trespass

Drakkar R. Willis v. State of Indiana

49A02-1310-CR-854

While a majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed an Indianapolis man’s trespassing conviction, another judge warned in dissent that the ruling went against the tenet of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We are not in the business of horseshoes and hand grenades, where ‘close’ is good enough,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in arguing evidence was insufficient for conviction. “I am convinced the State has failed in its burden of proof and vote to reverse.”

Drakkar Willis was convicted of Class A misdemeanor criminal trespass after police arrested him in response to a security alarm that sounded at Watkins Family Recreation Center. An officer saw a black male suspect running from the business about 100 yards away, and another officer later arrested Willis.

In affirming the conviction, the panel majority judges, Terry Crone and John Baker, cited Meehan v. State, 7 N.E.3d 255 (Ind. 2014), in which DNA on a glove found at a crime scene was deemed sufficient to support a burglary conviction. The majority found physical location near a crime scene was of greater probative value than DNA on an item found at a crime scene.  

“Before Meehan, we would have agreed with our dissenting colleague and reversed Willis’s conviction for insufficient evidence. But ‘we are bound to follow the precedent of our supreme court,” Crone wrote for the majority.

In reviewing the sufficiency standard in Meehan, “we conclude that a reasonable factfinder could infer that Willis was inside the Center and knowingly or intentionally interfered with the possession or use of its property without the owner’s consent. Willis’s argument to the contrary is merely a request to reweigh the evidence, which we may not do.”

Barnes rejected the majority’s interpretation of Meehan. “I do not believe that case demands or commands that the basic and longstanding tenets of the definition of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ be altered. Others may disagree.”

“A bit of review is in order. An alarm sounds, police are dispatched. While nearing the building from which the alarm emanated, an officer sees a black man running in a direction away from the building, approximately 100 yards in the distance. This man was Willis, and he was convicted of trespass. There is no evidence tying Willis to the scene.

“… The entirety of the evidence upon which Willis was convicted was the fact that he was seen running at a distance of approximately 100 yards. I am not convinced that this evidence can be construed as Willis’s fleeing from the scene of the crime. Even though we are bound to give the State a reasonable inference here, it is well-settled Indiana law that flight from a crime scene, in and of itself, is not sufficient to sustain a conviction.”
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July 14

Civil Plenary – Mechanic’s Lien/Deceptive Consumers Sales Act

Terry Banks v. Denny Jamison, d/b/a, Automotive Hammerart

49A02-1304-PL-362

A dispute over work done on a 1973 Dodge Challenger led the Indiana Court of Appeals to find the car’s owner may challenge a mechanic’s lien that a shop used to auction the car.

The 31-page opinion found vehicle owners have a right to challenge mechanic’s liens when disputes arise about the work performed. The appeal attracted an amicus brief from the Automobile Dealers Association of Indiana, which argued in favor of affirming summary judgment for Denny Jamison.

Terry Banks took the car to Jamison’s shop, but he claims Jamison did far more work than authorized, and Banks disputed a bill that exceeded $5,000. Jamison claims the work was authorized and that Banks did not contest a possessory mechanic’s lien he perfected or attempt to halt an auction of the car for which he was served notice.

The Court of Appeals panel majority affirmed summary judgment in favor of Jamison on Banks’ civil claims of theft and conversion, but it ruled that Banks may proceed with a claim in Marion Superior Court under the Deceptive Consumers Sales Act.

The majority rejected Jamison’s claim that Banks was estopped from arguing the unauthorized work was done after the mechanic’s lien was perfected. The panel also concluded the lien was invalid because there was no indication Banks was served.

“The possessory mechanic’s lien statute provides some guidance to a lien holder about the procedure for perfecting and foreclosing on a mechanic’s lien. While the statute provides that a vehicle ‘may be sold at public auction’ if the vehicle owner ‘does not claim the vehicle and satisfy the mechanic’s lien on the vehicle,’ Ind. Code § 9-22-6-2(g), the statute is silent on how or when a person may challenge a possessory mechanic’s lien,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the majority, joined by Judge Cale Bradford.

“As we hold below, once proper service of the lien notice is obtained, unless and until the General Assembly provides for an adequate forum for the resolution of conflicting claims, the owner will have an adequate opportunity to challenge the validity of the lien, either through a replevin action or, once notified of the claimed lien, through a declaratory judgment action.”

The ADAI in its amicus brief argued that to “permit Banks to challenge the validity of the mechanic’s lien after it has been foreclosed, and all statutory foreclosure procedures have been completed, would render the mechanic’s lien statute worse than useless.”

Mathias wrote that neither party came to the appeal with “clean hands.”

“Jamison could have offered, and Banks could have demanded, a written and signed estimate of the work to be performed that included Banks’s contact information. That single, simple step would have allowed both parties to avoid the expensive legal journey that has brought them before this court,” Mathias wrote.

The majority found that despite highly disputed facts in this case, the record shows Jamison didn’t act in bad faith. But Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III was unconvinced. He wrote that he concurred with most of the majority’s ruling but would also reverse summary judgment to allow Banks’ civil theft and conversion claims to proceed.

“This case is ripe for trial. The facts are so highly disputed that a jury is required to observe the facial expressions of the parties, listen to the tenor of their voices, and make a decision regarding their credibility. I believe Banks is being denied his day in court,” Pyle wrote.
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July 16

Miscellaneous – Domain Name

Serenity Springs, Inc. and Laura Ostergren v. The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, by and through its Board of Managers

46A04-1309-MI-470

See story on page 1.
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July 17

Criminal – Public Intoxication

Clyde Davis v. State of Indiana

49A02-1311-CR-938

The state’s claim that a man’s public intoxication conviction should stand because of possible danger he faced if he left an apartment complex while intoxicated was rejected by the Indiana Court of Appeals because the argument was merely speculative.

Police responded to two calls at an apartment complex indicating that Clyde Davis and another man had been fighting. After the first call, police noted Davis had been drinking, but concluded he could safely walk home. But Davis didn’t leave and the next morning, police came back after the second call and found Davis standing outside the building in a grassy common area. Police believed he was extremely intoxicated and concerned that if he tried to walk home, he could be struck by a car on the busy road. Officers arrested him and he was charged with and convicted of Class B misdemeanor public intoxication.

Davis argued that the state failed to prove he endangered the lives of himself or others for purposes of the public intoxication statute, as recently amended. The appeals judges reviewed several cases that deal with the new statute, including the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Thang v. State, to determine the common thread in these cases is past or present conduct by the defendant did or did not place life in danger.

“While the statute does not require that actual harm or injury occur, some action by the defendant constituting endangerment of the life of the defendant or another person must be shown. This is true even where an officer testifies that the defendant was a danger to himself or others,” Judge James Kirsch wrote. “Were it otherwise, citizens could be convicted for possible, future conduct. The policy behind the current public intoxication statute is to encourage intoxicated persons to avoid danger by walking or catching a ride rather than driving. Although we acknowledge that intoxicated persons may also create danger by walking in public places, that danger must have manifested itself in order for the State to obtain a conviction.”

In this case, there was no evidence Davis was in danger. The state argued that he was in danger of being struck by a car if he left the apartment complex, but that is just speculative and not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The State may not convict Davis for what would or could have happened,” Kirsch wrote.•
 

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  1. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  2. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  3. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  4. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  5. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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