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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit issues four Indiana opinions today

In U.S. v. Kevn L. Hicks (ND Ind., Judge Lee), an 11-page opinion, Judge Flaum writes:

Kevin Hicks was arrested when police responded to a 911 caller who reported that an armed man was beating a woman. Hicks was charged with being a felon in possession and moved to suppress the gun on the grounds that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him because of the striking inconsistencies in the 911 call. Specifically, the caller gave two different names for himself, said that he was inside a house before admitting that he was outside, and revised his position on whether the man he was reporting had a gun. The district court denied the motion, and Hicks entered a plea of guilty that preserved the suppression issue for appeal. Although the transcript of the 911 call reveals a somewhat questionable accusation, the responding officer, who did not hear the call, reasonably relied on the straightforward information that was transmitted to him. Thus, we affirm.

I. Background. The strange story behind this case begins with a romantic triangle involving Hicks, Sylvia Lynn McClendon, and David Woodbury.

In U.S. v. William J. Higdon (SD Ind., Judge Young), a 7-page opinion, Judge Posner writes:
The defendant pleaded guilty to defrauding the Indiana Medicaid program of $294,000, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1347, which criminalizes schemes to defraud health care benefit programs. The guideline sentencing range, as the parties agreed and the judge determined, was 18 to 24 months. The presentence investigation report, and the prosecution, recommended that the defendant be sentenced within the guidelines range, but the district judge sentenced him to 60 months (as well as to pay restitution of the amount he had stolen). The defendant appeals only the prison sentence. * * *

The last two mistakes or omissions, and also the first, could reflect the district judge’s possession of a personal penal philosophy at variance with the Sentencing Commission’s; and that, as we said, is permitted. But we can have no basis for confidence in such an inference, and the other six mistakes or misunderstandings that we have identified seem unrelated to a legitimate philosophical difference.

We suggest that when a judge decides to impose an outof- guidelines sentence—whether it is above or below the guidelines range—he write out his reasons rather than relying entirely on the transcript of his oral remarks to inform the reviewing court of his grounds. The discipline of committing one’s thoughts to paper not only promotes thoughtful consideration but also creates a surer path of communication with the reviewing court.

The judgment is vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

In Stephen D. Hemmer, DVM v. Ind. St. Db. Animal Health (SD Ind., Judge Barker), a 10-page opinion, Judge Flaum writes:
Stephen Hemmer is a veterinarian employed by the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (“ISBOAH”). He was accused of violating certain employee procedures. After a severe motorcycle accident that rendered him disabled, he attended a hearing with his employer regarding the issue of whether he could be fired for cause on account of his failure to follow these procedures. Hemmer was discharged, and he appealed this decision to a state agency, and then the state trial court, where he argued that he was denied due process because, among other things, he was mentally incapacitated during the hearings. The Indiana Court of Appeals subsequently ruled that the state trial court—which agreed that Hemmer was denied due process—did not have jurisdiction to hear his case. Hemmer then decided to file a complaint in federal district court, again arguing that he was denied due process. The district court determined that it was precluded from hearing the claim because it was “inextricably intertwined” with a prior state court judgment. Because we find that the effect of the Indiana Court of Appeals decision was to void the prior state court judgment, we reverse. * * *

Similarly, in this case, Hemmer could not obtain an adjudication of his claims in state court because the Indiana courts ruled that they did not have the power to hear his case. Therefore, there was no decision on the merits that would cause the federal district court’s ruling one way or the other to become “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment. True, the Indiana trial court did mistakenly reach the merits of Hemmer’s claim, and ruled in his favor. But the subsequent Indiana Court of Appeals decision—which concluded that there was a lack of subject matter jurisdiction—had the effect of voiding the lower court judgment. The appeals court even directly stated that under Indiana law, the “absence of subject matter jurisdiction . . . renders a judgment void and open to collateral attack.” * * * Because the Indiana trial court decision was voided for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the state-court slate is wiped clean.

This leaves Hemmer in the position of having filed his federal district court complaint when the only relevant prior history was a loss in state agency proceedings. The parties did not raise this issue, but the question remains whether Hemmer counts as a state-court loser when he lost in his state administrative agency proceedings. The Supreme Court has answered this question in the negative. In Verizon Maryland Inc. v. Public Service Commission of Maryland, 535 U.S. 635 (2002), the Court declared that the Rooker-Feldman “doctrine has no application to judicial review of executive action, including determinations made by a state administrative agency.” Id. at n.3. Hence, the district court is not precluded from hearing Hemmer’s case, or deciding for or against him, even though a state administrative agency has already ruled against him.

III. Conclusion. For the forgoing reasons, we REVERSE the district court’s ruling and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

In Eagle Services v. H2O Industrial Services (ND Ind., Mag.Judge Cherry), a 9-page opinion, Judge Posner concludes:
The presumption in a copyright case is that the prevailing party (though if it is the plaintiff, only if his copyright had been registered, [cites omitted] receives an award of fees. [cites omitted] The presumption has not been rebutted.

The judgment is therefore reversed and the case remanded with instructions to compute and award reasonable attorney’s fees to the defendants.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 9, 2008 01:11 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions