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Judges: amendment not retroactive

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that an estate's interpretation of a 2003 amendment to Indiana Code would threaten the fiscal health of governmental entities and that the amendment isn't retroactive.

"Making the entities suddenly responsible for liability imposed during the first term of the Reagan Administration would neither preserve the treasury nor discourage excessive litigation," wrote Judge Robert M. Dow Jr., sitting in designation from the Northern District Court of Illinois.

The federal appellate court decided in Estate of Christopher A. Moreland v. Erich Dieter and Michael Sawdon, and St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, et al., No. 08-1478, that an amendment to Indiana Code Section 34-13-4-1 didn't apply retroactively to a judgment imposed against St. Joseph County jail officers Erich Dieter and Michael Sawdon. The two were found civilly liable for the beating death of inmate Christopher A. Moreland in 1997. The jury returned a $56.5 million verdict, with $29 million in compensatory damages, against the two in 2002; a third officer was found not liable in September 2003.

The estate relied on the 2003 amendment to attempt to recover the $29 million from St. Joseph County and its board of commissioners. The amendment made changes to the state's statutory schemes covering indemnification by governmental entities for the conduct of their employees. It converted a discretionary indemnification provision into a mandatory one for non-punitive damages and when the entity defends or has the chance to defend the employee.

The District Court denied the estate's motion for writ of execution to collect against the county.

The 7th Circuit rejected the estate's three arguments on appeal: that the amendment applies to the judgment because the interpretation that it seeks isn't retroactive at all; the language of the amendment requires retroactive application; and the amendment was a remedial statute whose purpose requires retroactive application.

The estate relies on re-enacted language, which makes it difficult for the judges to "swallow" the argument that the legislature intended to give retroactive effect to the 2003 amendment by resorting to language that already existed in Indiana code, wrote Judge Dow.

"In sum, the language to which the Estate points falls far short of the unambiguous language that Indiana courts require for a statute to be applied retroactively. Tellingly, Indiana's legislature has revealed itself more than capable of making its statutes explicitly retroactive ...," he wrote.

The estate's argument the amendment is remedial also fails, because it's doubtful the amendment qualifies as remedial as the state's courts use the term in evaluating retroactivity and giving retroactive effect to the amendment would allow one purpose of it to trump other purposes that are evident from the structure and language of the statute, wrote the judge.

"The Estate's interpretation would threaten the fiscal health of governmental entities by opening them up to twenty years' liability, because that is how long a person has to enforce an Indiana judgment," wrote Judge Dow.

St. Joseph County may choose to compensate the estate for the conduct of its officers, but because I.C. Section 34-13-4-1 isn't retroactive, it's not a choice the Circuit Court has the authority to impose.

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  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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