The Indiana Court of Appeals declined to address whether a pro se prisoner is “incapacitated” for purposes of the Indiana Tort Claims Act in a man’s appeal of his suit involving false arrest and false imprisonment.
Bruce Fox filed a suit against several entities, including West Central Community Corrections, for false arrest, false imprisonment, and violation of rights under the state and federal constitutions. In 1997, Fox was arrested for child molestation and possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty to the drug charge and was sentenced to probation. He violated his probation and was committed to the WCCC to administer 269 days of home detention, which he began in February 1998. In March of that year, he was found guilty of the child molesting charges and committed to the Indiana Department of Correction.
When he was released in 2004, Fox was sent to the WCCC pursuant to a hold on his record. Fox believed his home detention sentence had run and he completed his required imprisonment. No one at the WCCC could answer why Fox was in their custody and he was eventually transferred to jail. He was finally released Nov. 4, 2004. He filed his tort claims notice May 3, 2005, which was 180 days from his release. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of WCCC after concluding the notice was filed beyond the 180-day period required under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.
In Bruce R. Fox v. Dennis Rice and West Central Community Corrections, No. 54A01-1003-PL-97, Fox argued that the 180-day period didn’t begin to toll on July 15, 2004, the date he allegedly was unlawfully imprisoned, but should start when he was released Nov. 4. The Court of Appeals rejected Fox’s arguments. The doctrine of continuing wrong doesn’t prevent the statute of limitations from beginning to run when a plaintiff learns of facts that would lead to the discovery of the cause of action, even if the relationship with the tortfeasor continues, wrote Judge Margret Robb. The application of this doctrine is prohibited because Fox suspected a mistake and the repeated comments that the WCCC didn’t know why he was there should have led to Fox discovering his claims.
Fox argued that he was “incapacitated” under the ITCA because he was without realistic access to civil attorneys to discuss his potential civil claims.
“Lack of ‘realistic access’ to an attorney is insufficient to render Fox incapacitated,” wrote Judge Robb. She noted that the appellate court didn’t directly address the issue of whether a pro se prisoner is “incapacitated” in McGill v. Ind. Dept. of Correction, 636 N.E.2d 199, 204 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). “However, for us to address this issue and conclude in the affirmative would create the problematic incentive for prisoners to forego legal counsel. Further, and more importantly, we lack authority to legislate that pro se prisoners are per se ‘incapacitated’; this is a question for the General Assembly.”
The appellate judges also affirmed summary judgment in favor of WCCC on Fox’s false imprisonment claim because his federal claim didn’t contain a genuine issue of material fact.