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Judge dissents in eviction case

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There is "potential for abuse" when an armed and uniformed police officer is at the scene of a self-help eviction or repossession of a private party, according to an Indiana Court of Appeals judge.

Judge James Kirsch dissented from his colleagues in Mark Harness Jr. v. Paul Schmitt and Town of Winona, No. 43A05-0909-CV-528, in which the majority upheld the finding that police officer Paul Schmitt was immune from tort liability. Mark Harness alleged Schmitt unlawfully assisted in a false eviction when Schmitt went to the house Harness was renting at the request of the homeowner to evict Harness.

"While it may not be improper per se for an armed and uniformed police officer to accompany a private party to the scene of self-help eviction or repossession, such a practice is fraught with the potential for abuse," wrote Judge Kirsch. "It creates the false impression that the eviction or repossession is being effected pursuant to court authority although the officer has no way of knowing whether the eviction or repossession is lawful or unlawful."

He believed there were material questions of fact whether Schmitt was assisting in an unlawful eviction and would remand for trial.

But the majority held Schmitt was acting in the scope of his employment and engaged in law enforcement when he went to Harness' house. Even though the record doesn't explain why the eviction notice was "false," Schmitt would still be immune from liability, wrote Judge Melissa May.

He wasn't acting outside the scope of his duties because police officers are often required to keep the peace and enforce laws. Schmitt was at the house to prevent any breach of peace.

"We decline to hold an officer's presence at a place where a breach of the peace might be anticipated is, as a matter of law, outside the definition of 'law enforcement,'" she wrote.

The appellate court also denied attorney fees for Schmitt.

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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

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