ILNews

Judge: Parents must pay fees in frivolous suit

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Two parents challenging a new school-uniform policy in Anderson lost their legal battle in August after a federal judge dismissed the case. This week, parents Laura and Scott Bell have been ordered to pay attorneys' fees and court costs of approximately $40,931 to defendants Anderson Community Schools and the board of trustees.

U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder issued the order Thursday, recounting reasons for ruling in favor of the school district four months ago and issuing a note of caution for future pro se plaintiffs.

The Bells filed suit in Madison Circuit Court in July against the school corporation, claiming that a policy set to start on the first day of school in August would violate the constitutional right of children for a free education. That dress code - similar to those implemented in other Hoosier school districts such as the Indianapolis Public Schools - limits students to black, navy, or khaki pants or skirts, and solid color shirts and sweaters. Students wouldn't be allowed to wear baggy pants or skirts sagging below their midriffs, or shirts with writing on them, the parents claimed.

Anderson Community Schools had asked for summary judgment July 30, noting there is no basis for the federal or state law claims regarding a constitutional right to a "free education" and is no violation of "parental rights" under the Ninth and 14th Amendments.

Judge Tinder dismissed the case after pointing out that the pro se parent plaintiffs "utterly failed" to respond to discovery requests and hadn't shown any likelihood of prevailing in court.

"Plaintiffs offered no timely response to the Defendants' summary judgment motion, even though the court allowed them as pro se parties every latitude to pursue their claims, and encouraged them to obtain the assistance of counsel," Judge Tinder wrote in Thursday's ruling. "The court even gave them guidance on how to focus on the proper issues before the court. Plaintiffs were advised on more than one occasion that the losing party in this case may be required to pay the other side's costs, and even attorneys' fees."

Though the defendants met deadlines in the expedited schedule caused by the parents' request for injunctive relief, those plaintiffs did not attempt to persuade the court not to award any fees. Judge Tinder wrote that because the plaintiffs' civil rights claims lacked any reasonable basis in fact or law, they are considered frivolous and the fees can be awarded. The judge determined the lodestar amount - the reasonable number of hours worked multiplied by the market rate - should be used to determine the fee amount of $40,931.50.
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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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