7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Criminal – Traffic Stop/Fourth Amendment
United States of America v. Michael D. Weir
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a man’s petition for rehearing and for a rehearing en banc after the court originally upheld the seizure of thousands of dollars following a traffic stop. But one judge did write to explain that she disagreed with her fellow panel members’ rationale for originally affirming the seizure.
Michael D. Weir complained that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when a police officer seized $6,655 from him during a traffic stop. The car was originally pulled over after police observed Weir, a front seat passenger, not wearing his seatbelt. The police found the driver didn’t have a valid license or plates for the car and decided to impound it. A pat down of Weir revealed a pocket knife, and while performing the pat down, the officer felt what appeared to be a large amount of cash.
The officer seized the cash, but allowed Weir to leave the scene. The driver was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia based on evidence found at the traffic stop. The driver later implicated Weir in a drug conspiracy, to which he implicated himself further after his arrest.
“I agree with Weir that the officer did not have probable cause to seize the cash at the time the officer effected the seizure,” Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote.
“The opinion concludes that the officers could seize the money because Weir was the passenger in a stolen car, and because they later discovered the digital scales in that car. But at the time the officer seized the cash, the officer had no evidence connecting Weir or the cash to criminal activity,” she continued. “That the officer later learned that the car was stolen and that it contained drug paraphernalia cannot retroactively justify the seizure.”
But she found even if seizure of the cash was error it was not plain error. The outcome of the case would have been the same if the cash wasn’t seized because it was the cash’s discovery that led to Weir’s downfall.
“Once the cash was legitimately discovered, alea iacta est. I therefore concur in the denial of the petition for rehearing, but I do not endorse the rationale used in the opinion to justify the seizure,” she wrote.
Civil – Disability Insurance/SSA
Linda K. Roddy v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security
Finding that the administrative law judge hearing a southern Indiana woman’s claim for disability insurance benefits made several errors in his consideration of the record, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the Social Security Administration for more proceedings.
Linda Roddy, who had worked full-time as a shift manager at Taco Bell for many years, sought disability benefits after pain prevented her from working and doing basic household chores. She was in a car accident in 1999 that led to her seeking treatment for chronic pain. She went to pain management specialist Dr. Gary Wright for several years and received treatments. When she lost her insurance, she saw Wright less frequently until she stopped seeing him in January 2006. Tests revealed she had degenerative disc disease and inflammation of the joints in the lower back. She cut back hours at work at the suggestion of Wright until she could no longer work at all.
Roddy filed for benefits in November 2007, alleging that her disability began in November 2005. Dr. Larissa Dimitrov evaluated Roddy and found her not to be disabled. The agency denied her claim as did an administrative law judge. He found her not to be disabled using the five-step sequential process in 20 C.F.R. Section 404.1520(4).
The 7th Circuit found the ALJ failed to adequately explain why Wright’s views should be set aside and didn’t give much weight to his opinion. As Roddy’s treating physician, his opinion is entitled to controlling weight if it is supported by other evidence.
The judges also agreed with Roddy that this case must go back to the SSA because the ALJ erred by basing his credibility finding on Roddy’s failure to seek professional treatment for her back after 2006 and her ability to perform household tasks.
The 7th Circuit vacated the District Court judgment that found evidence supported the decision and remanded with instructions.
Indiana Supreme Court
Criminal – Sex Offender Registry/Retroactive
Andre Gonzalez v. State of Indiana
The Indiana Supreme Court held that based on the facts of a Lake County man’s case, a 2006 amendment requiring him to register for life as a sex offender violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Indiana Constitution. The amendment took effect after Andre Gonzalez fully served his sentence and during the 10-year period of his required registration.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty in 1997 to Class D felony child solicitation and was discharged from probation in 1999. While still required to register for 10 years based on the law in effect at the time of his discharge, the Legislature amended the Sex Offender Registration Act to require certain offenses to register for life, including child solicitation. Gonzalez petitioned to remove his sex offender designation, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed and the Supreme Court agreed that Gonzalez should not be required to register for life.
The justices applied the seven Mendoza-Martinez factors to determine whether the retroactive imposition of the lifetime registration period violates the Ex Post Facto Clause as applied to him. Weighing the punitive and non-punitive nature of the seven factors to Gonzalez’s case – finding four of the factors to be punitive – the justices held that applying the 2006 amendment to him violates the clause.
“In the present case, the defendant, Gonzalez, as a non-SVP, may not predicate his request for relief on the grounds that he has been rehabilitated and presents no risk to the public. And the trial court has refused to grant a hearing despite his repeated attempts to seek the trial court’s review of his claim of ex post facto punishment,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote. “Thus, as to this defendant, we find that the retroactive imposition of a lifetime registration requirement appears excessive in relation to the purpose of protecting the public from repeat sexual crime offenders.”
The high court reversed the denial of Gonzalez’s petition to remove the lifetime registration requirement and remanded the case for further proceedings. Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result without a separate opinion.
Civil Tort – Medical Malpractice Cap
Timothy W. Plank, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Debra L. Plank, Deceased v. Community Hospitals of Indiana, Inc., and State of Indiana
The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Timothy Plank, who filed a medical malpractice complaint following the death of his wife in 2001, forfeited his opportunity to conduct an evidentiary hearing challenging the constitutionality of the Medical Malpractice Act.
Plank filed his lawsuit in November 2003 after his wife Debra died of sepsis following failed diagnoses at Community Hospitals of Indiana. The case proceeded to trial in August 2009 with Community as the sole defendant. In September 2009, Plank was awarded damages of $8.5 million by the jury, which was reduced to the statutory cap of $1.25 million following a motion made by Community. Plank did not object to the reduction until eight days later.
He sought an evidentiary hearing to develop his constitutional challenge, which was ultimately denied by the trial court. The Court of Appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court granted transfer to address the propriety of Plank’s constitutional claim.
Plank wants to hold the hearing so he can establish that the factual underpinnings that led the Supreme Court to declare the statutory cap constitutional in 1980 in Johnson v. St. Vincent Hospital, 404 N.E.2d 585 (Ind. 1980), no longer exist today.
The justices found that Plank forfeited the opportunity to conduct a hearing to develop his claim, finding that by the time the complaint proceeded to trial, the matter had been pending for nearly six years. They rejected his assertion that there was no way to know whether the damages would exceed the cap before trial, so his first chance to raise the issues was after the jury returned its verdict.
“In any event, not only did Plank fail to file a pre-trial motion challenging the cap and asserting a need for an evidentiary hearing to develop a record in this regard, but Plank also failed to make any such claim at any time prior to the jury verdict in this nearly two-week long trial. In fact when Community moved to reduce the jury award in accordance with the cap, Plank raised no objection and agreed to ‘prepare a proposed judgment for the court,’” Justice Robert Rucker wrote. “It was not until eight days later that Plank objected to the reduction of the award and requested a hearing. This was too late.”
Indiana Court of Appeals
Protective Order – Domestic Violence
Jeffrey A. Hanauer v. Colleen T. Hanauer
A Tippecanoe County man appealing the issuance of a protective order against him lost his case before the Indiana Court of Appeals. The appellate court concluded that the evidence showed his wife is a victim of domestic violence.
Jeffrey Hanauer argued that there was insufficient evidence to support issuing the protective order. In January 2012, marital problems escalated between the husband and his wife Colleen Hanauer. He would scream at his wife to get a job and told her he would kill himself if she left him. When Colleen Hanauer slept in a separate bedroom, Jeffrey Hanauer would enter the room and repeatedly wake her up by turning on lights and banging on doors. Colleen Hanauer found her tires slashed one day.
Jeffrey Hanauer took medication for insomnia and severe anxiety disorder, and he also used marijuana.
Colleen Hanauer eventually left her husband, filed for a protective order pro se, and then filed for divorce. The trial court found that “domestic or family violence, [or] stalking . . . occurred sufficient to justify the issuance of [the Protective Order].” Based on these findings, Tippecanoe Superior Judge Randy J. Williams found Colleen Hanauer was a victim of domestic violence and entitled to the protective order.
The Court of Appeals found the husband failed to show the findings were clearly erroneous and ruled the issuance of the protective order was not in error.
Mortgage Foreclosure – Settlement Agreement/Estate
George Dean King v. Kay S. King, et al.
Although a settlement agreement worked out between siblings included details about who would receive comic books, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled because the document did not specifically address the accounts receivable, one of the surviving sons would not be entitled to the money.
After George W. King Sr. died in 2001, his three children began fighting over the ownership of his many businesses. His daughter, Kay King, and her son, Christopher King, filed a complaint against her brothers, George King and Bob King, and against five of her father’s corporations and three partnerships.
In June 2003, the trial court appointed a receiver. About a year later, the receiver paid more than $2 million for the estate’s outstanding tax liabilities. He drew the bulk of the funds from one particular company, Crown Associates Inc., because that entity had more liquid assets available than the other businesses. The receiver credited Crown by creating an account receivable which in 2007 was valued at $687,278.
On Feb. 22, 2005, the siblings entered into a Term Sheet for Settlement of Litigation which represented their partial agreement on the broad outlines of asset distribution. As a part of that document, the assets and/or equity interest of Crown was conveyed to the son, George Dean King.
Concluding the accounts receivable were not part of the assets, the trial court ruled the receiver should eliminate all inter-company accounts prior to transferring Crown to George King.
On appeal, George King argued the court abused its discretion when it approved the elimination of certain Crown accounts receivable prior to conveyance. He asserted the accounts receivable were still on the books when the Term Sheet was executed in February 2005.
The COA disagreed. It noted the receiver initially proposed that all receivership entities be liquidated with the proceeds being divided equally between the siblings. However, that goal was altered after the siblings executed the Term Sheet which made the assets included in each receivership entity important.
While the Term Sheet divided a multitude of assets ranging from real estate to safety deposit boxes and even comic books, it did not address Crown’s accounts receivable.
“Given the level of detail embodied in the Term Sheet,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote, “the absence of a clear expression by the parties to repay the accounts receivable which had been expressly created by the Receiver during the Receivership and which existed during the execution of the Term Sheet, is evidence of intent that no such offset was bargained for.”
Criminal – Nonsupport/Sentence
Amir H. Sanjari v. State of Indiana
An Elkhart County father whose child support arrearage neared $57,000 lost his second appeal of a case that already has gone to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals rejected Amir Sanjari’s arguments that the charges against him constitute double jeopardy and his 10-year executed prison term represents vindictive sentencing.
“In light of the severity of Sanjari’s offenses and his appalling character, we conclude that his ten-year sentence is not inappropriate,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the unanimous panel.
The Indiana Supreme Court in 2011 ruled in Sanjari’s initial appeal that Indiana Code 35-46-1-5 permits separate Class D felony charges of nonsupport for each dependent child – Sanjari had two – but that only one charge may be enhanced to a Class C felony when the unpaid obligation exceeds $15,000.
Sanjari, who holds a doctorate in nuclear physics and at one time had been employed at the University of Notre Dame, had been sentenced to two consecutive five-year terms, and the Supreme Court remanded to the trial court for resentencing. In May, the trial court imposed a sentence of eight years for the Class C felony and two years for the Class D felony.
The COA ruled resentencing was not vindictive and that Sanjari provided no evidence to support the argument. Sanjari “points to only the numerous filings he made, including a habeas corpus petition and numerous motions for change of venue, and material from his website, some of which was highly critical of the trial court and the prosecutors and attorneys of Elkhart County. There is simply no evidence, however, that the trial court took any of Sanjari’s criticisms into account at resentencing,” Bradford wrote.
“Were we to accept Sanjari’s argument, it would open the door for future defendants to establish actual vindictiveness claims simply by being vexatious, a result we obviously cannot endorse.”
The court noted Sanjari’s “onslaught of legal proceedings” against his ex-wife that cost her nearly $100,000 in legal fees alone.
“Sanjari has a history of voluntary unemployment,” Bradford wrote, and “has shown a contempt for the law and an unwillingness to conform his behavior to social norms.
“Sanjari’s character is illustrated thorough his defiance, his abuse of the legal system in order to punish (his ex-wife), and his utter refusal to satisfy his legal obligations to his children. In light of the nature of Sanjari’s offenses and his character, a ten-year executed sentence is fully justified,” the court held.
Domestic Relation – Child Support/Artificial Insemination
Steven Engelking v. Amy Engelking
A father who contested a trial court order that he must pay child support for two children failed to convince the Court of Appeals that he did not consent to their conception through artificial insemination.
The Delaware Circuit Court ordered the father to pay child support as part of the marriage dissolution decree.
On appeal, he argued that he didn’t owe support because neither their 9-year-old son or 6-year-old daughter born via artificial insemination was a “child of the marriage,” citing Levin v. Levin, 645 N.E.2d 601, 605 (Ind. 1999), for the proposition that a child conceived through artificial insemination is a child of the marriage only when both parties knowingly and voluntarily consent to the artificial insemination.
“Here, Mother testified that Father knew of the artificial inseminations that led to the conception of both children, helped her conduct research to determine the paraphernalia used to facilitate the first artificial insemination, talked with S.P. and his wife about the use of S.P.’s sperm as a component of both inseminations, and consented to both inseminations,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the court.
“The trial court’s findings are supported by Mother’s testimony, and the findings support the trial court’s ultimate conclusion that each child was a child of marriage. Accordingly, both Father and Mother ‘have an obligation to support the child[ren].’”
Civil Tort – Wrongful Death/Liability
Secrena D. Erwin, individually and as Mother of Sheyenne R. Jenkins, deceased v. HSBC Mortgage Services, Inc., Ian’s Pointe Homeowners Association, Inc., and R&G Management Co., Inc., et al.
A trial court correctly dismissed a wrongful death case the mother of a 5-year-old girl filed against a mortgage company and other defendants after the child drowned in the pool of a house that had been abandoned.
Sheyenne R. Jenkins drowned in the pool of a home in the Ian’s Pointe subdivision of Avon in 2008 after she wandered away from relatives’ home a couple of properties away. Her mother sued the mortgagor, management company and homeowners association, and a trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants.
The house’s former owner had filed for bankruptcy and abandoned the house in January of that same year. Neighbors eventually complained about the deteriorating and dangerous conditions of a pool and its partially submerged cover, and a neighbor said a representative of R & G Management Co. Inc., d/b/a Community Association Services of Indiana, represented in a phone call that the situation “would be taken care of.” Court records indicate nothing was done afterward.
“Even if we were to take the leap with Mother and infer that this was an assurance that CASI would go onto the property and secure the pool, the fact is that CASI did not act upon this promise in any way,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the court.
“The trial court correctly determined as a matter of law that this is not a case of gratuitous assumption of duty. The trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants based upon lack of duty. Because we have affirmed the grant of summary judgment on this ground, we need not reach the attractive nuisance issue addressed by the parties,” Friedlander wrote.
Juvenile – Single Larceny Rule
J.R. v. State of Indiana
A teen lost an appeal challenging his adjudication as a delinquent on charges that would be theft and auto theft if committed by an adult violated the single larceny rule.
The youth burglarized an Indianapolis home and stole a Chevy Avalanche truck and several personal items including a handgun, iPod and television. He was adjudicated a delinquent for burglary, which would be a Class B felony if committed by an adult; theft, which would be a Class D felony if committed by an adult; auto theft, which would be a Class D felony if committed by an adult; and resisting law enforcement, which would be a Class A misdemeanor if committed by an adult.
J.R. cites Stout v. State, 479 N.E.2d 563 (Ind. 1985), to argue his true findings for theft and auto theft cannot stand. In Stout, the court ruled that a defendant could not be charged with multiple violations of the same theft statute.
“But here, true findings were made as to theft and auto theft, which are different offenses and violations of different statutes. We conclude that the crimes of theft and auto theft are distinct offenses, and J.R.’s true findings for both offenses did not violate the single larceny rule,” Judge James Kirsch wrote in affirming the Marion Superior Court ruling.
Civil Plenary – Admission of Evidence
John Pichon, Jr. v. American Heritage Banco, Inc., et al.
A Steuben Circuit Court committed reversible error when it failed to admit into evidence an exhibit purporting to show that a borrower had repaid a $650,000 promissory note, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
John Pichon Jr. was ordered to pay a judgment of $1,189,105 plus interest after a bench trial in which American Heritage Banco alleged that he and others conspired with officers of National Bank of Fremont to commit criminal acts and seeking payment on two promissory notes Pichon executed.
“Exhibit A, which is an original of the $650K note stamped ‘paid,’ is relevant to the issue of whether there is an unpaid balance on that note, and the trial court should have admitted it into evidence. The trial court’s exclusion of Exhibit A prejudiced Pichon to such an extent that we hold it was reversible error,” Judge Edward Najam wrote. “We reverse the trial court’s judgment with respect to the $650K note, only, and remand for a new trial on that issue.”
The court ruled that AHB could sue Pichon on the note; Pichon has waived issues of illegality, accord and satisfaction, and consideration; prejudgment interest is appropriate if AHB prevails on retrial; and that due to the reversal on the $650,000 note, AHB was not entitled to an award of attorney fees.
Civil Plenary – Land Use/Dept. of Transportation
Nick Domaschko and Edwina Domaschko, and their Respective Trusts, et al. v. State of Indiana
The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the Indiana Department of Transportation is entitled by law to acquire a portion of an Ohio County pair’s property to improve State Road 56.
Nick and Edwina Domaschko challenged the trial court’s order of immediate appropriation and appointment of appraisers regarding certain portions of the 900 acres they own that INDOT sought for the road project. They claimed that some of the real estate INDOT sought to appropriate wasn’t related to highway purposes: a 50-foot buffer zone associated with the relocation of a creek and a portion of land associated with a shared driveway that straddles two properties.
The Domaschkos argued that INDOT doesn’t have the authority to acquire land to “plant trees or to maintain driveways unrelated to road construction.” But INDOT presented evidence and testimony that it needed to relocate the creek, which requires installing a 50-foot buffer zone and includes the planting of trees along the relocated portions of the creek. The buffer zone is required as part of the permitting process.
The Domaschkos also argued that the permanent acquisition of the land to be used as a shared driveway between them and the water company is unnecessary because the water company has another entrance.
“However, INDOT presented testimony explaining that the Domaschkos’ expert’s design was not viable and that a permanent right-of-way was necessary because ‘[t]he driveway is shared by two property owners, so according to Indiana design manual, we have to take permanent right-of-way. We cannot take temporary right-of way from one owner to build a drive . . . for another,’” Judge Michael Barnes wrote. “Thus, it is clear that the acquisition of this property is related to the improvement of State Road 56 and, therefore, INDOT is statutorily authorized to acquire the property for the driveway.”
Criminal – Intimidation
Daniel Brewington v. State of Indiana
A Dearborn County man who posted numerous articles online about a Superior judge who presided over his divorce alleging the judge was corrupt and a child abuser had his conviction of intimidation related to the conduct upheld by the Court of Appeals. But the judges found intimidation convictions relating to a psychologist who performed the custody evaluation and the judge’s wife could not stand.
Daniel and Melissa Brewington were going through divorce proceedings before Dearborn Superior Judge Carl Taul. Dearborn Superior Judge James Humphrey later took over the case. Dr. Edward Connor was assigned to perform the custody evaluation of the children. He determined that Melissa Brewington should be the sole custodian and primary residential parent with Daniel Brewington receiving visitation because the couple couldn’t communicate effectively.
Daniel Brewington objected to the report. Instead of allowing Connor to meet with him again, he began sending a torrent of abusive letters to Connor to release his entire file to him, withdraw from the case, and withdraw the evaluation. After Humphrey took over the case and entered a final order granting sole legal and physical custody to Melissa Brewington, Daniel Brewington began posting on websites claims that Humphrey was a child abuser and corrupt. He also posted online the name of Humphrey’s wife Heidi and their home address and told people to send letters about his case to that address. He did not say that Heidi Humphrey, who previously was an advisor on the Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics and Professional Committee, is James Humphrey’s wife.
Daniel Brewington was indicted on six charges and found guilty of five at trial: Class A misdemeanors intimidation relating to Connor and Heidi Humphrey; Class D felony intimidation relating to James Humphrey; Class D felony attempted obstruction of justice relating to Connor; and one count of Class D felony perjury for falsely stating during grand jury proceedings that he didn’t know Heidi Humphrey was the judge’s wife. He received a five-year aggregate sentence.
Daniel Brewington appealed on several grounds, including double jeopardy and whether the evidence can sustain his convictions. The Court of Appeals concluded that double jeopardy required the intimidation conviction relating to Connor to be reversed and vacated because the jury could have relied on the same evidence to convict Daniel Brewington of intimidation and attempted obstruction of justice convictions. The judges reversed his conviction relating to the judge’s wife, finding his posting of her address on the Internet and inviting the public to send comments about his divorce case didn’t constitute a threat as defined by statute. They upheld the conviction relating to James Humphrey, rejecting Daniel Brewington’s argument civil defamation law principles must be incorporated into Indiana Code 35-42-2-1(c)(6). The judges found the state was not required to provide evidence that his public statements about James Humphrey were knowingly false. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in all other respects.
Civil Tort – Employment/Termination of Contract
Steven A. Ballaban v. Bloomington Jewish Community, Inc., a/k/a Congregation Beth Shalom, Paul Eisenberg, Judith Rose, Sarah Wasserman, Lynne Foster Shifriss, and Roberta “Didi” Kerler
A Bloomington rabbi terminated less than a year into his contract with Congregation Beth Shalom lost his case before the Indiana Court of Appeals. He claimed he was fired for reporting child abuse, but the congregation said his contract was terminated for other conduct that fell under the ministerial exception.
Beth Shalom entered into a contract with Steven Ballaban for him to serve as rabbi for three years. He was fired nearly a year later in 2010 due to the board of directors’ view that Ballaban was unable or unwilling to fulfill the expectations for rabbinic behavior, put the tax-exempt status of the congregation at risk, breached the congregation’s guidelines’ sacred duty of confidence on at least two occasions, and was hostile toward employees. Ballaban argued that he was fired because he previously had exchanged email messages with several people regarding concerns of child abuse by a teacher. That abuse claim was later unsubstantiated by the Department of Child Services.
After Ballaban filed a lawsuit following his termination, the congregation argued that the ministerial exception applies. Ballaban claimed reporting child abuse would fall outside of that exception and allow his suit to proceed. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Beth Shalom and other defendants.
Judges Elaine Brown, L. Mark Bailey and Nancy Vaidik each wrote opinions on this case, with Bailey and Vaidik concurring with Brown’s opinion that summary judgment was proper for the defendants.
Brown wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether the ministerial exception applies when a minister is fired or impacted for reporting or attempting to report child abuse. She found it’s not necessary to decide that yet because the record supports the ruling that the ministerial exception applies.
Bailey noted that the record doesn’t include Ballaban’s complaint or amended complaint, but it appears he brought claims of breach of contract, tortious interference with a contract, negligent failure to supervise, defamation and invasion of privacy. He pointed to a letter to Ballaban designated as evidence by Beth Shalom that reasons for his termination included “conduct unbecoming a spiritual leader,” and that he had been counseled by another rabbi about his behavior. Ballaban never designated materials showing that the termination was prompted solely by the reports of child abuse.
Vaidik wrote that the ministerial exception doesn’t allow a congregation to fire a spiritual leader who refuses to commit a criminal offense and failure to report child abuse is a criminal offense. But the designated evidence doesn’t reveal the reason Ballaban was fired was his child-abuse reporting, so she concurred in result.
The judges agreed that Beth Shalom is not entitled to appellate attorney fees.
Domestic Relation – Divorce/Relocation
Kyle W. Dixon v. Ara J. Dixon
A trial court’s decision to allow a mother and her two children to move to Illinois after marrying her fiancé was not an abuse of discretion by the court because the father didn’t show how the move would have a negative effect on the children.
Kyle and Ara Dixon divorced in 2007, with Ara Dixon having physical custody of the parties’ children and Kyle Dixon receiving parenting time. In 2011, the mother filed notice of intent to relocate to Illinois due to her plans to get remarried and live with her new husband, who worked in Illinois.
Kyle Dixon is remarried and has one son with his new wife and two stepchildren. He participated in many activities with the children because of his flexible work schedule. It would take about three hours to drive to Ara Dixon’s new home in Illinois, but she testified that she’d be willing to continue alternating weekends with the father, allow the children to be in Indiana for holidays and accommodate extra parenting time when appropriate.
The trial court found that the mother’s desire to relocate was made in good faith and for a legitimate reason. The judge granted her request to relocate, which effectively denied Kyle Dixon’s motion to modify custody.
The children’s schedule will not change much due to the relocation, the Court of Appeals noted, and Kyle Dixon didn’t present any expert testimony to show how the move would have a negative effect on the kids. The judges also weren’t persuaded by his argument that the relocation may cause conflicts with his ability to engage in parenting time with his children with Ara Dixon as the schedule of his son with his second wife may conflict with trips to see the children in Illinois. The appellate court found the trial judge considered the factors set out in Indiana Code 31-17-2.2-1(b) in making its determination.
Criminal – Evidence/Firearm
Jermaine Hines v. State of Indiana
The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a man’s conviction of Class B felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, rejecting his argument that the gun he tossed away while running from police should not have been admitted into evidence.
Anderson police believed Jermaine Hines may have been involved in a shooting at a gas station based on interviews with several witnesses. Police decided they wanted to talk to Hines again – he had previously denied involvement in the shooting – and saw him leaving a home on a moped that was the base for drug trafficking.
Uniformed offices in a marked car saw Hines at the gas station and called out to Hines that they wanted to speak to him. Hines sped off on his moped, later crashing it and running from police on foot. While the officers were chasing him on foot, they saw Hines throw something and heard it hit against a house. Hines tossed a .45 caliber handgun.
He was charged with resisting law enforcement and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, but only convicted of the firearm charge. His motion to suppress the evidence was denied.
Hines argued that the police did not have legal cause to detain him, and, as a result, he was free to decline to speak with the officers. He conceded that the firearm was abandoned, but he claimed that it was abandoned only after law enforcement officers attempted to illegally seize him, so the trial court should have denied the state’s request to admit the firearm into evidence.
Judge Rudolph Pyle III, writing for the court, concluded that the police had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to detain Hines based on information from witnesses of the shooting, the observation that Hines left a drug house, and when officers approached him to speak, Hines fled.
The judges agreed with the state that the seizure of the firearm isn’t subject to protections of the Fourth Amendment because Hines abandoned it. The facts of the case show Hines’ intention to relinquish any possessory interest in the firearm by tossing it as he fled from the officers, Pyle wrote.
Criminal – Drugs/Habitual Offender Enhancement
John F. Harris, III v. State of Indiana
A man who was arrested and charged with Class B felony possession of cocaine because he was within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex in Elkhart had his conviction upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals. But the judges reversed a habitual offender enhancement because the state didn’t prove that John F. Harris III had more than one dealing offense.
Officer James Wrathell saw Harris walking down the middle of the street in at night and approached Harris. After Wrathell ordered Harris to put his hands on his head, Harris fled into a nearby apartment complex, where Wrathell caught him.
Harris had $680 in cash, several bags of marijuana and a bag of individually packaged rocks of cocaine on him. He was charged with possession of cocaine, enhanced to a Class B felony because he was within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex. The state also charged him with being a habitual offender.
At trial, the officer said he did not see any children during the incident, but workers at the apartment complex testified that most of the families that live in the complex are young mothers with children. The trial court found Harris guilty as charged and sentenced him to an aggregate term of 43 years.
The Court of Appeals, citing Griffin v. State, 925 N.E.2d 334, 337 (Ind. 2010), upheld the enhanced conviction. The judges felt “bound” by statements in Griffin to mean the evidence from the apartment complex employees could support the enhancement.
“We acknowledge that this interpretation of the defense seems inconsistent with its purpose, which is ‘to excuse a defendant from the required enhancement when his presence in the proscribed zone only minimally increases the risk to children,’” Judge Terry Crone wrote. “If the defense can be defeated merely because unseen children are present in a nearby residence, the enhancement becomes similar to a strict liability offense. The enhancement loses some of its value as a deterrent if it applies to offenders who are unaware that a child happens to be present in a nearby residence. Although the statutory defense as written is clearly available for persons charged with possession or dealing within 1000 feet of a family housing complex, as a practical matter, the defense will likely be difficult to establish.”
Harris previously pleaded guilty in 2003 to possession of cocaine or narcotic drug. The state also relied on a document titled “Bail Review Pretrial Release Report” that indicates Harris has a 1997 conviction of “Manufacture/Delivery of a Controlled Substance” from Illinois to support the habitual offender enhancement. But the record is silent as to which drug Harris manufactured and not all manufacturing offenses fall within the sections of Indiana Code 35-50-2-8(b)(3)(C), so the state did not prove Harris has more than one dealing conviction under that statute.
Civil Plenary – Employment/Schools
Lula L. Jenkins, et al. v. South Bend Community School Corp.
The Indiana Court of Appeals held that a St. Joseph Circuit judge erred by granting summary judgment in favor of a school corporation instead of making an independent determination of whether a school bus driver was discharged for just cause.
Lula L. Jenkins was fired from her job as a bus driver for South Bend Community School Corp. after it was determined she violated two work rules by allowing a child to ride her bus past the child’s destination and into the school corporation’s maintenance facility. She and the union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 62, and AFL-CIO Local 686, filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement. Article 4 of the CBA sets forth the four-step grievance procedure and defines what is a grievance. Article 4 also provides that “[t]he grievance and arbitration provisions of this article are an exclusive remedy. With respect to every arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator shall be advisory to the Superintendent and not binding on either party.”
A neutral arbitrator determined that just cause didn’t exist to support Jenkins’ discharge and issued an order that she be reinstated with back pay, benefits and seniority. The school corporation declined, saying the order is merely advisory based on Article 4. Jenkins and the union then sought a de novo judicial review of whether the CBA was violated.
St. Joseph Circuit Judge Michael Gotsch granted the SBCSC’s motion for summary judgment without conducting a de novo review. He concluded the SBCSC was within its right to fire Jenkins and that the superintendent wasn’t contractually compelled to follow the advisory opinion of the arbitrator.
“In this case, we conclude that the ‘exclusive remedy’ provision of the CBA at issue here was intended to function only as an exhaustion-of-administrative-remedies provision and not as a bar to Jenkins’s exercise of her right to free and open courts and their remedies,” Judge James Kirsch wrote. “Thus, under this CBA Jenkins must proceed through the grievance procedure prior to resorting to judicial review of her claims. The advisory nature of the arbitrator’s award allows the non-prevailing party, here SBCSC, to reject the award, thus triggering judicial review, either under the (Indiana Uniform Arbitration Act’s) provisions or for a determination whether the facts found by the arbitrator support the award. Consequently, we find that the trial court erred by declining to make that determination and by entering summary judgment in favor of SBCSC.”
The appellate court remanded for further proceedings.
Criminal – Traffic Stop/Reasonable Suspicion
Erving Sanders v. State of Indiana
The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded on interlocutory appeal that an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer lacked reasonable suspicion when he stopped a man’s car due to the tint on his rear window because the evidence shows the window tint didn’t justify the stop.
Officer Keith Minch stopped Erving Sanders’ Suburban around 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2011, based on the tint of the rear window. He believed it was too dark and warranted an infraction. When speaking to Sanders, he smelled marijuana and searched Sanders. He found a substance on Sanders which Sanders admitted was cocaine.
Sanders was charged with Class D felony possession of cocaine, but he sought to suppress the evidence. Evidence produced during the hearings on his motion showed that the front windshield and side windows weren’t tinted and the rear window and side panels had some tint. A photograph showed that it was possible to see the outline of the front window, top of the steering wheel and a portion of a wiper blade through the rear window.
When asked about the window tinting and whether he could see through it, Minch either answered he didn’t know or couldn’t determine from the photo. Sanders had an expert testify that the rear window was tinted at 38 percent, which is higher than the 30 percent of light transmittance required under law.
Marion Superior Judge Jose Salinas acknowledged that the window tint was within the prescribed limits of the law but denied the motion to suppress based on a good-faith intent on Minch’s part at the time of the stop.
Sanders argued that the judge’s position means that an officer is never wrong and a stop would always be upheld.
“Based upon the evidence presented at the suppression hearings, including the photographs of the Suburban which were taken one hour after the stop and depict the window tinting, we cannot say that there was an objectively justifiable reason for the stop of the vehicle,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote. “Accordingly, under the totality of the circumstances Officer Minch lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Sanders for investigatory purposes at the time he observed Sanders’s vehicle. The trial court erred in denying Sanders’s motion to suppress.”•