Thursday, April 3, 2014

Former Secretary of State Charlie White Wins Right to Pursue Conspiracy Claims in Federal Court

In a ruling handed down last Friday by Federal Southern District of Indiana Judge Sara Evans Barker, former Secretary of State Charlie White won the right to pursue claims against defendants the State of Indiana, the Indiana State Police, Special Prosecutors John Dowd and Daniel Sigler, Jr., Prosecutors Daniel J. Sigler, Sr., Sonia Leerkamp, D. Lee Buckingham, III, and Jeffrey Wehmueller, and Indiana State Police Detective Paul Hansard.
Charlie White

In a federal civil rights lawsuit in which he represents himself, Charlie White had made the following claims:
I.  Violation of his right to equal protection
II.  Malicious prosecution regarding indictment for fraud against a financial insttitudion against defendants Dowd, Sigler, R., Sigler, Sr. and Hansard
III.  Intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants Dowd, Sigler, Sr., Sigler, Jr. and Hansard
IV.  Conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C Sec. 1986 against defendant Buckingham
V.  Violation of First Amendment rights against defendant Leerkamp
VI.  Conspiracy to violate 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985 against defendants Leerkamp, Wehmueller, Dowd, Sigler, Sr., Sigler, Jr. and Hansard. 
The Defendants, through the Indiana Attorney General's Office, had sought to dismiss each of the claims.

In the decision written by Judge Barker, White's official capacity claims against the defendants were dismissed with prejudice due to the 11th Amendment which prohibits suits against states in federal
Judge Sara Evans Barker
court.  Judge Barker also found that any allegations relating to matters he was convicted of are barred and dismissed those without prejudice and dismissed White's emotional distress claim.   Judge Barker found, however, that White had sufficiently pled his two claims that the actors identified above were involved in a "far-reaching conspiracy."  White is also also permitted to pursue claims against the prosecutors as to the bank fraud charge for which White was acquitted by the jury.  As Judge Barker noted, while prosecutorial immunity does protect the decision to bring charges, it does not protect prosecutors against the allegation that they directed the investigation that resulted in the charges.

I should note the major effect of this decision is that it now allows White to pursue discovery against the named defendants, discovery that could prove very embarrassing and possibly even incriminating.

In ruling on the Motion to Dismiss, I would commend Judge Barker for sticking closely to the concept of notice pleading.  Too often federal courts, based on a gross misinterpretation of the Supreme Court's Iqbal and Twombly cases, have concluded that notice pleading in federal court is dead.  Plaintiffs are increasingly facing Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss in federal court, regardless of how detailed their complaint is.  The effect is that the motion to dismiss stage in federal litigation has been converted by into a second extremely expensive and drawn out summary judgment stage.    Ironically, Judge Barker ends her opinion with strict instructions to White to follow the notice pleading rule of making a "short and plain statement" of his claim when he amends his complaint.  As someone who practices in federal court, I wish that were enough but too often it isn't.


LamLawIndy said...

I'm a little confused. He can proceed against the defendants in their individual capacities but not in their official capacities? does that mean he'd have to show some sort of personal animus toward him in order to survive summary judgment?

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