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Inmate’s suit over seizure of paper crosses reinstated

May 18, 2018

An inmate’s lawsuit against two people working for the Indiana Department of Correction will continue after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint for failure to state a claim.

While incarcerated in the Putnamville Correctional Facility in December 2015, Anthony Reed mailed four handmade paper crosses to family members. Three of the crosses were returned to the prison for insufficient postage, but they were not returned to Reed. The inmate later learned that mailroom employee Leann White had confiscated the crosses and given them to Darrin Chaney, an internal affairs officer.

Reed filed an informal grievance with the correctional facility in January 2016 but was informed that prison policy prohibited the use of colors and symbols to show gang affiliation. Reed maintained the crosses were not connected with any known gang memberships, but his grievance appeal with the Department of Correction was denied.

The inmate then filed a complaint against White and Chaney in the Putnam Superior Court, alleging White did not have a valid reason to confiscate the crosses and failed to follow DOC seizure policies, while both defendants committed “criminal conversion.” The court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed on Friday.

Specifically, Judge Edward Najam wrote in Anthony Wayne Reed v. Leann White and Darrin Chaney, 67A01-1708-MI-1768, that the state’s argument that White and Chaney were entitled to immunity failed because it is an affirmative defense. Dismissal for failure to state a claim is “rarely appropriate” when an affirmative defense is raised, Najam said.

“Here, if Reed had alleged in his complaint that White and Chaney were acting within the scope of their employment, dismissal under Indiana Code Section 34-58-1-2(a)(2) would have been appropriate,” Najam said. “But Reed makes no such allegation. Accordingly, looking only at the face of Reed’s complaint, there is no basis to dismiss the complaint because of White’s and Chaney’s possible immunity defenses.”

The panel also determined that if they take the facts of the complaint as true, then there was no basis to confiscate the crosses.

“Reed’s allegations may prove incorrect at a fact-finding hearing,” Najam said, “but they state a claim.”

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