Judge sanctions lawyer, ex-DOC nurse in inmate abuse case

After declaring her trust in the statements submitted by defendants in prisoner litigation cases “shattered,” a federal judge imposed sanctions — some as as severe as default judgment — on a former prison nurse and her attorney accused of misconduct as serious as perjury.

Pamela Hagemeier, a former nurse at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, and Indianapolis attorney Jeb Crandall of Bleeke Dillon Crandall, P.C., were each sanctioned Tuesday as a result of show cause proceedings in Philip Littler v. Christopher Martinez, et al., 2:16-cv-00472. Philip Littler sued Hagemeier and several other Department of Correction defendants after he claimed he was injured when he was forcibly removed from his cell pursuant to a cell extraction on Dec. 27, 2015.

In naming Hagemeier as a defendant, Littler argued the nurse “did not meaningfully assess his condition” after the cell extraction, but instead only wiped away blood from his nose and lip. But in two sworn affidavits, Hagemeier maintained Littler never told her he had been shot in the face with a pepperball gun, so she conducted a visual assessment of his condition and checked his vital signs. Additionally, Hagemeier said she asked Littler if he wanted ice or to take a shower, but he refused and told her to “go to hell.”

Hagemeier and the other defendants moved for summary judgment, and during those proceedings Indiana Southern District Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson expressed “grave concerns” over the veracity of statements submitted by Hagemeier and Crandall. The judge issued show cause orders against both the attorney and the nurse – who no longer works at Wabash Valley – and held show cause hearings in December 2018 and January 2019, respectively.

Ultimately, those hearings led Magnus-Stinson to enter default judgment against Hagemeier in a Tuesday sanctions order. The judge said she did not credit Hagemeier’s testimony in her defense during the January show cause hearing, instead finding the nurse intentionally lied in court filings and on the stand.

Initially at issue in the show cause proceedings was Hagemeier’s assertion in her first two affidavits that Littler never told her he had been shot in the face. Video evidence contradicted that statement, with a recording revealing the inmate told Hagemeier, “I just want to tell you for the record, they shot me in the face three times, [and] punched me in the head several times. I didn’t resist.”

Hagemeier explained the discrepancy by saying she didn’t recall Littler making that statement when she signed her affidavits, adding that even after watching the video she did not recall him telling her that he had been shot in the face. But Magnus-Stinson noted Hagemeier remembered other parts of her interaction with Littler, including his telling her to “go to hell.”

“It is much too convenient that Nurse Hagemeier remembered specific comments made by Littler that reflected poorly on him or justified a lack of treatment, but she failed to recall his very clear statement that was relevant to how she should examine and treat him,” the chief judge wrote.

Further, the video did not show Littler telling Hagemeier to “go to hell,” nor did it corroborate the nurse’s assertion that she checked Littler’s pupil reactivity and found no signs of a head injury, the judge said. Instead, Magnus-Stinson said the video showed Littler’s eyes were swollen shut, which would have made a pupil reactivity test difficult to conduct, let alone pass.

Additionally, the chief judge discredited Hagemeier’s testimony that she conducted the pupil test as part of checking Littler’s vital signs, noting the official medical care policy of Corizon, DOC’s medical care provider, did not include a pupil test as part of a vitals evaluation. These falsehoods, the judge said, were made out of animus toward Littler and in an attempt to prove that Hagemeier provided adequate care.

Magnus-Stinson also found that Hagemeier lied when she swore in her first affidavit that she reviewed Littler’s medical and other records before signing it. During questioning from Gavin Rose, the attorney appointed to represent Littler, Hagemeier admitted that she did not review any records prior to signing the first affidavit.

“The Court can only hope that this severe sanction will pay dividends by deterring similar conduct in the several hundred prisoner cases filed in this Court every year,” Magnus-Stinson wrote in imposing the default judgment.

Though the chief judge said she did not have concerns about Crandall lying during his show cause, she nevertheless determined the attorney had violated several attorney conduct rules, including Rule of Civil Procedure 11, 28 U.S.C. section 1927 and Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3(a). The bulk of Magnus-Stinson’s concerns about Crandall’s conduct were related to his decision to submit Hagemeier’s false affidavit and use it as a basis for what the judge said was an inappropriate summary judgment motion.

In response to the summary judgment motion, Littler referenced the video of his interaction with Hagemeier and said it disproved her affidavit and undermined the summary judgment motion. But Crandall “ignored” that part of Littler’s response — claiming it didn’t “jump out at him” — and failed to view the video before filing a reply in support of the summary judgment motion.

During the show cause hearing, Crandall maintained the video had been placed in the file of another case involving Littler, and it was not on his radar to track the video down because he did not believe it was relevant his clients’ cases.  But Magnus-Stinson said the attorney’s failure to review the video — especially after receiving Littler’s response to the summary judgment motion — was a violation of Crandall’s obligation to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the factual basis of Hagemeier’s statements and to conduct a reasonable investigation before filing the summary judgment motion.

The chief judge also determined Crandall violated his ethical obligations by failing to correct Hagemeier’s various false statements.

Magnus-Stinson ended by noting she had previously warned Crandall against filing inappropriate summary judgment motions last year in Warren v. Corizon, et al., 2:17-cv-00116. As a result, she imposed four sanctions on the attorney:

• Crandall and his firm must sign Rule 11 compliance forms each time they file or reply to a summary judgment motion;

• Crandall must complete a six-hour applied professionalism CLE within six months;

• Crandall must pay Rose’s attorney fees and costs as they relate to Crandall and Hagemeier’s show cause proceedings, and;

• Crandall must submit a copy of the court’s order “to the general counsels of all state bars where he is admitted to practice, or to the appropriate entity with jurisdiction over attorney discipline,” within seven days.

The purpose of the sanctions, Magnus-Stinson said, is to deter attorneys from adopting a mindset wherein pro se prisoners such as Littler are treated as second-class litigants.

“The Court fears that no amount of judicial action can fully mitigate the harm done when defense counsel treats opposing pro se parties as second-class litigants or when counsel so ignores the standard of review on summary judgment as to demonstrate complete disrespect for the Court’s and opposing party’s time,” the chief judge wrote. “This Order and the sanctions issued in it are a small but hopefully meaningful step toward halting this practice by deterring counsel litigating against pro se prisoners from proceeding down the same ill-advised path.”

The claims against Hagemeier will now proceed only to determine damages.

“We are disappointed with the Judge’s conclusions, but we respect her order and will fully comply,” Crandall said in an email to Indiana Lawyer.

Rose said in an email that the order speaks for itself.

Also pending before Magnus-Stinson is a possible issuance of sanctions against deputy warden Frank Littlejohn and his counsel, deputy attorney general Amanda Fiorini.

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