Inmate sanctioned by COA for continued filing of frivolous lawsuits

Fed up with the increasing burden an Indiana inmate has placed on the courts with frivolous lawsuits, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has instructed trial courts to not put up with the prisoner’s misconduct any longer.

Lee Evans Dunigan was charged with Level 1 felony child molesting in 2018. Dunigan chose to represent himself, and after a series of filings spanning many months, the trial court convicted him following a bench trial and in June 2020 sentenced him to 42 years in the Department of Correction.

Since then, Dunigan has become “a prolific, abusive litigant” who has filed 49 different lawsuits, including suits against the governor and multiple suits against the Indiana chief justice.

The COA previously dismissed Dunigan’s direct appeal of his conviction and found all his claims were waived for failure to develop a cogent argument or provide citations to authority.

In the instant matter, Dunigan filed a complaint in Tippecanoe Circuit Court seeking $100 million in monetary compensation from the state, disbarment of the chief and deputy chief prosecutors and the “overruling” of his conviction. The named defendants were the state of Indiana and the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department, though the chronological case summary reflected that the latter was dismissed from the case on April 14, 2020.

In the appealed order, the trial court noted the claims against the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department had been removed to federal court. The court found “Dunigan’s specific allegations are difficult to discern but appear to stem from his belief that the State of Indiana, via its agents, tampered with some evidence relating to Dunigan’s child molestation conviction, thus violating his rights.”

The trial court screened the complaint pursuant to Indiana Code § 34-58-1-2. With respect to all 10 of the claims in the instant matter, the trial court concluded “all other claims not listed as Surviving Claims are dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and/or seeking relief from a defendant who is immune from suit under I.C. 34-13-3-3.”

The Court of Appeals found no error in the dismissal of Dunigan’s complaint pursuant to the screening statute.

Further, the COA determined that the frivolous complaints made by Dunigan needed to be addressed.

“While we commend our trial courts for patiently facilitating Dunigan’s conduct thus far, in the interests of justice, the time has come to formally recognize that conduct for what it is: an abuse of our judicial system,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote. “Trial courts may use the statutes at their disposal, including the Three Strikes Statute where applicable, to address further complaints filed by Dunigan.”

The COA also imposed sanctions, including rules on him filing complaints and developing legal arguments.

The case is Lee Evans Dunigan v. State of Indiana, 21A-CT-2939.

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