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Convicted forger, ID thief loses appeal of suit against victims

December 10, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment to several relatives and the landlord of man convicted of stealing and frequently using his parents' financial accounts and personal items to fund his gambling. The COA found the relatives were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

After obtaining access to his parents' personal financial records, Chris Harkins subsequently forged and cashed checks on his parents' accounts, fraudulently added himself as an authorized user on their existing credit accounts, rerouted their credit card statements to his apartment and made more than $37,000 in unauthorized charges on their credit cards. Harkins also stole and pawned multiples pieces of his parents' jewelry and sold items he fraudulently purchased to get gambling money.

Harkins was convicted of five counts of Class C felony forgery; two counts of Class D felony identity deception; two counts of Class D felony credit card fraud; Class A misdemeanor deception and of being a habitual offender. He was sentenced to 22 years in the Indiana Department of Correction.

In October 2015, Harkins filed a pro se damages suit against his sister, landlord, cousin and aunt, who entered his apartment with his ex-wife’s permission and key to reclaim personal items Harkins allegedly had stolen from his parents.

Among other things, Harkins contended that his sister, Shannon Westmeyer, enlisted the assistance of his landlord, Jon Niklas, to enter Harkins’ apartment, and then recruited cousin Angie Harkins and aunt Janet Harkins in the removal and transport of his personal property. Harkins also contended that his relatives “maliciously and intentionally deprived” him of his property without communicating the disposition of the items.

Westmeyer, Niklas, Angie and Janet all separately filed motions and were granted summary judgment against Harkins. On appeal, Harkins argued that the trial court erred in granting them summary judgment.

The appellate court found that no genuine issues of material fact existed as to Harkins’ claims of conversion and infliction of emotional distress against Westmeyer, Angie and Janet. It also found that there were no genuine issues of material fact regarding Harkins’ claims that Niklas acted with deliberate indifference and culpable negligence in facilitating the entry of Westmeyer, Angie and Janet into Harkin’s apartment.

“We conclude that the trial court did not err in finding that Westmeyer, Angie, Janet, and Niklas were entitled to judgment as a matter of law and in granting summary judgment in their favor,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the court in Chris E. Harkins v. Shannon Westmeyer, Jon Niklas, Angie Harkins, and Janet Harkins, 15A01-1703-CT-530.

Harkins additionally argued that the trial court erred in failing to apply the prison mailbox rule and by striking his response materials as untimely filed. But the appellate court found that that the automatic three-day extension pursuant to Rule 6(E) did not apply to extend his deadline from September 1, 2016, to Sept. 6, 2016, in response to Westmeyer’s motion for summary judgment.

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