« Ind. Courts - An update to "A look at the Indiana Tax Court" | Main | Ind. Decisions - "Incidents involving alleged patient privacy violations can lead to negligence lawsuits that invoke HIPAA as a benchmark" »

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, a reversal

In Charles Keller v. USA (SD Ind., Magnus-Stinson), a 10-page opinion, Judge Hamilton writes:

Plaintiff Charles D. Keller, a federal prisoner, has sued the federal government to recover damages for an assault by another prisoner that he suffered in the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Keller appeals from a grant of summary judgment in the government’s favor, so we must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to him and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Parrott v. United States, 536 F.3d 629, 630– 31 (7th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, we must assume the facts are as stated in this opinion, but without vouching for their objective truth. * * *

If as the government suggests in its brief the guards made a “policy” choice that caused them to neglect an area of the yard because they were pursuing other policy objectives within their discretion (such as walking the perimeter or supervising trash collection), then perhaps that would be shielded by the discretionary function exception. But there is no evidence to that effect in the record, and the government’s say‐so in its briefs is not enough to support summary judgment. The government points to no evidence in the record to contradict Keller’s claims that the guards were simply lazy or inattentive. “That type of carelessness would not be covered by the discretionary function exception, as it involves no element of choice or judgment grounded in public policy considerations.” Palay, 349 F.3d at 432.

Accordingly, we conclude that the government did not sustain its burden to prove as a matter of law that the discretionary function exception shielded it from liability for the brutal attack that seriously injured Keller. Summary judgment was improperly granted for the government on that basis, and the district court’s error was not harmless.

We do not reach Keller’s claims that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to compel discovery or his motion for appointment of counsel. Keller is free to pursue further discovery on remand, and can of course renew his motion for appointment of counsel as well. We note in closing, however, that the district court may wish to revisit its determination on both matters in light of this opinion. See Parrott, 536 U.S. at 638–39 (finding that district court had abused its discretion in handling injured prisoner’s discovery requests). The district court’s resolution of the discovery disputes in this case resulted in a record so limited that it could not support summary judgment for the government.

A better‐developed record would have allowed the district court and this court to assess better the merits of the government’s motion for summary judgment. We REVERSE the district court’s grant of summary judgment and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 18, 2014 04:51 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions