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Wrongfully convicted man can pursue IIED claim

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A man wrongfully convicted of attempted murder can go forward with his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against the City of Elkhart and several police officers, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

After serving eight years of a 30-year sentence for attempted murder, the charge against Christopher Parish was dropped and he was freed from prison in 2006. Evidence came out that the shooting didn’t happen where originally stated and police coerced several witnesses into identifying Parish as the shooter. At his trial, Parish introduced evidence he was out-of-state at the time of the shooting.

Parish and family members sued Elkhart and three former city police officers. The only claim at issue in Christopher Parish, et al. v. City of Elkhart, et al., No. 09-2056, is Parish’s state claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his state false arrest and false imprisonment claims due to being time-barred based on Parish’s concession at oral argument.

The issue on appeal is whether the IIED claim is time-barred; the District Court ruled that it was, and dismissed the claim. The state claims must be brought within two years of the date on which the action accrued. He filed his suit within two years of his exoneration.

The Circuit Court used four cases to guide its decision to reverse the dismissal of Parish’s IIED claim: Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007), Scruggs v. Allen County/City of Fort Wayne, 829 N.E.2d 1049 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), and Johnson v. Blackwell, 885 N.E.2d 25 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).

“If the claims would not directly implicate the validity of the conviction, the court should follow the standard discovery rule applied in Indiana: The claim accrues at the time the individual knew or should have known of the tort,” wrote Judge Joel Flaum. “If the claim would directly implicate the validity of the conviction, then Heck and Scruggs come into play and the claim does not accrue until the conviction has been disposed of in a manner favorable to the plaintiff.”

In Parish’s case, it’s clear that this claim wasn’t completed prior to the conviction based on the actions of the officers. They took steps through all stages of the investigation and trial that cumulatively amounted to the tort of IIED, the judge wrote. And, the conviction was an essential piece of the tort because it was the wrongful conviction that led to the emotional strain and mental anguish Parish faced.

Under Indiana’s adoption of Heck, Parish couldn’t have brought this claim until his conviction was disposed of in a manner favorable to him, and he did so within the statute of limitations, the court ruled.

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