Man’s ‘barely legible’ suit against judge, clerk, DOC staff rightly tossed

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Indiana Lawyer on 7/19/2019 by Dave Stafford

Despite recent changes to the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct meant to aid pro se litigants’ ability to be heard in court, an appellate panel ruled Friday that an inmate’s suit against a judge, a clerk and others was so confusing and repetitive that it was rightly dismissed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the Sullivan Circuit Court’s dismissal of Kevin Martin v. Hon. Hugh Hunt, et al., 18A-CT-2595, noting Kevin Martin’s handwritten complaint at some points was barely legible, and his arguments were even less decipherable.

After Martin had a disagreement over a copying request with Indiana Department of Correction librarian Brenda Hinton, he sued her, DOC employee Charles Dugan, Sullivan Circuit Judge Hugh Hunt and court clerk Peggy Goodman, demanding to be released from prison due to his pain and suffering. After the defendants moved to dismiss, Martin filed an amended complaint.

“On August 29, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing Judge Hunt had judicial immunity; the court lacked jurisdiction to release Martin from prison as requested; the same case was pending before the Indiana Court of Appeals; and the action was contrary to public policy,” Judge Melissa May wrote.

Special Judge Christopher Newton dismissed Martin’s case from Sullivan Circuit Court on those grounds while also finding “the same case was pending before the Indiana Supreme Court on a petition to transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals; and ‘[b]ecause the plaintiff is engaging in serial litigation, suing those involved in orders in previous cases with which he does not agree, this action is contrary to public policy and must, for that reason, be dismissed,’” May wrote.

The COA affirmed the dismissal in a six-page order Friday, concluding, “Based on Martin’s multiple violations of the Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure, we are unable to ascertain his argument in this matter, and thus any issues he has attempted to present are waived.”

The panel noted Martin failed to make a cogent argument, and in a footnote pointed to revisions to a May amendment to Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.2, which gives judges discretion to facilitate litigants, including those representing themselves, to be heard. “Unfortunately,” May wrote, “…the deficiencies in Martin’s brief are so numerous and egregious that we are unable to ascertain his argument.”

The panel also found Martin’s case was rightly dismissed under I.C. 34-58-1-2, governing dismissal of suits that are frivolous, present claims upon which relief may not be granted, name those immune from liability or other reasons.