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Monday, December 21, 2009

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit issues two Indiana decisions today

In Hendrickson v. Cooper (SD Ind., Judge McKinney), a 15-page opinion, Judge Tinder writes:

Prison is rough. Violent prisoners can pose a serious threat, requiring prison officers to use force to maintain order. Sometimes, though, the only real threat comes from a rogue officer who attacks a prisoner for no good reason. When such abuse occurs in a facility operated by a State, the prisoner can sue the officer under the civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for excessive force. Still, a § 1983 suit is not always a perfect remedy, as the prisoner faces many challenges in proving his case. He must pit his story against the conflicting story of the defendant officer, who often boasts an impressive law enforcement résumé and calls a cadre of fellow officers to support his side. Yet this case proves that these challenges are not insurmountable, and that § 1983 plays a pivotal role in the cause against prison brutality. * * *

The evidence supported the jury’s finding that Cooper violated Hendrickson’s Eighth Amendment rights, as well as the jury’s compensatory and punitive damages awards.*
It should be noted that Hendrickson proceeded pro se through the early stages of this case, including the summary judgment process, right up to the brink of trial. At that point, the district judge requested that counsel appear on Hendrickson’s behalf pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1). The law firm that complied with that request very ably represented Hendrickson through trial and this appeal, thereby upholding the longstanding and greatly appreciated tradition of volunteering to represent the indigent.

In Nightengale Home Healthcare v. Anodyne Therapy (SD Ind., Judge Barker), a 10-page opinion, Judge Posner concludes [citations omitted]:
Ordinarily a failure to prove any damages does not disturb jurisdiction under a statute that sets a damages threshold. The failure is a failure on the merits rather than a failure of jurisdiction. But if it is demonstrated that jurisdiction was invoked without a goodfaith basis for supposing that the plaintiff crossed the threshold, the case must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction no matter how late in the litigation the lack of a good-faith basis comes to light, just as with any other late-discovered absence of subject-matter jurisdiction. Otherwise federal jurisdiction could be conferred by the defendant’s pretending that the plaintiff had alleged in good faith a claim for damages in an amount above the threshold because both parties wanted to be in federal court. Federal subjectmatter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by collusion or consent.

So clear is Nightingale’s failure to have mitigated its damages that it could have had no basis for thinking that its suit satisfied the minimum amount in controversy requirement of the diversity jurisdiction. That is not a criticism, however; for remember that Nightingale filed the suit in an Indiana state court, where there was no such requirement. The suit was removed to the federal district court by Anodyne. When a suit is removed on the ground that it is within the diversity jurisdiction and a question arises whether the amount in controversy requirement has been satisfied, the defendant has the burden of persuading the court that it has been satisfied. The question has arisen in this case—we have raised it, as a court is required to do if it is a question about its subject-matter jurisdiction, since such questions are not waivable; and we have found that the suit is not within the diversity jurisdiction. Ordinarily this would require dismissal of the case, allowing Nightingale to start over in the Indiana court. But by adding a federal claim after removal, Nightingale brought its suit within the federal-question jurisdiction of the district court and its state-law claims within the district court’s supplemental jurisdiction, which has no minimum amount in controversy requirement.

The merits judgment in favor of Anodyne is therefore AFFIRMED.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 21, 2009 02:35 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions