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Inmate loses 3 appeals

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Eric D. Smith, the New Castle inmate with the propensity for filing pro se suits, lost three appeals today with the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of a mailroom worker and the final reviewing authority officer for offender grievances in Eric D. Smith v. Jill Matthews and Linda Vannatta, No. 33A04-0903-CV-155. Smith alleged his constitutional rights were violated when books he requested on anarchy were confiscated and destroyed before he got them. Jill Matthews, the mailroom worker, placed them in a box for review by prison officials. Another official made the decision to destroy them. Linda Vannatta affirmed the confiscation, and Smith alleged she was deliberately indifferent to his claims. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Matthews and granted Vannatta's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

"Even if Smith's First Amendment rights were violated - and we do not mean to imply that they were - Matthews could not be liable for such a violation, because she had no authority to determine the materials were prohibited or to order their destruction," wrote Judge Margret Robb.

Smith's due process claim against Vannatta doesn't have merit because the United States' Constitution doesn't require a jail have grievance procedures and doesn't protect state-created inmate grievance procedures. Even if Smith's allegations are true, he failed to state a claim for which 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 provides a remedy, wrote the judge. Smith has an administrative remedy for wrongful deprivation of property in Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-7.

Smith also lost in his appeal of a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 complaint alleging Eighth and 14th amendment violations following the use of tear gas by the Department of Correction in the unit where he was housed after some inmates started a fire. He claimed it caused him pain and suffering. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of his complaint pursuant to I.C. Section 35-58-1-2 in Smith v. Stanley Knight, et al., No. 48A02-0902-CV-124. His complaint had no arguable basis in law or fact, wrote Judge Carr Darden.

The appellate court also affirmed the dismissal of Smith's complaint against the DOC commissioner and employees of the GEO Group, Inc., which operates and manages the New Castle Facility, in Smith v. J. David Donahue, et al., No. 33A01-0812-CV-607. In this complaint, Smith alleged violations of his First and 14th amendment rights when he was denied adequate use of the law library, assistance from a legal assistant, and that he had been prevented from posting mail and was treated differently than other inmates.

In April 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled the state's 2004 "Three Strikes Law" violated the Indiana Constitution's Open Courts Clause based on an appeal by Smith of one of his suits against the Department of Correction.

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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