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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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