419 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. 2005), 04-2894, Dawson v. Newman

Docket Nº:04-2894.
Citation:419 F.3d 656
Party Name:Lance DAWSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Thomas NEWMAN, Jr., Madison County Superior Court Judge in his individual capacity, State of Indiana, Indiana Department of Corrections, Arthur Hegewald, Betty Weist, Victoria Fafata, and Kathy Stoops-Wright, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 18, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 656

419 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. 2005)

Lance DAWSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Thomas NEWMAN, Jr., Madison County Superior Court Judge in his individual capacity, State of Indiana, Indiana Department of Corrections, Arthur Hegewald, Betty Weist, Victoria Fafata, and Kathy Stoops-Wright, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-2894.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

August 18, 2005

ARGUED Jan. 21, 2005.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, No. 03 C 1563 – Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

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Nicholas D. Conway (argued), Sutherlin & Associates, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

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James B. Martin, Ryan D. Johanningsmeier (argued), Office of the Attorney General, Ronald J. Semler (argued), Stephenson, Daly, Morow & Kurnik, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before RIPPLE, WOOD, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

SYKES,Circuit Judge.

When Lance Dawson's probation was revoked, he appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals and won a ruling that the revocation was improper. On remand Madison County Superior Court Judge Thomas Newman, Jr., ordered Dawson released from prison. Judge Newman's office faxed a copy of the Indiana Court of Appeals' decision to the Indiana Department of Corrections ("DOC") but did not include a copy of the release order. Dawson thus remained in prison for another fourteen months, until he was released on parole supervision. He reported for supervision, informed parole officials that his original probation revocation had been overturned, but was unable to convince officials that he should not be on parole.

Dawson then brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Judge Newman, Madison County Clerk of Court Kathy Stoops-Wright, the DOC, and several parole officials. The State defendants (the judge, the DOC, and the parole officials) moved to dismiss on absolute immunity grounds; the clerk, Stoops-Wright, filed an answer and did not join the motion to dismiss. The district court granted the dismissal motion, concluding that the judge was immune and the DOC and its parole officials could not be held liable for Dawson's wrongful continued incarceration and parole supervision because they had no power to "recompute a sentence" and were not at fault for the failure to transmit the release order. The district court later issued a brief "clarification" order indicating that the dismissal was "complete" and was meant to include dismissal of Dawson's claims against the clerk, even though she had not moved to dismiss.

We affirm in part and reverse in part. Judge Newman is entitled to absolute judicial immunity, and the claims against him were properly dismissed. The claims against the parole officials should not have been dismissed, however. The dismissal motion raised only the issue of absolute immunity – not the liability merits – and the parole officials are not entitled to absolute immunity. Finally, the district court's follow-up order summarily dismissing the claims against the court clerk was improper, as she had not moved to dismiss.

I. Background

We accept the facts alleged in Dawson's second amended complaint as true for purposes of our review of the district court's order granting the defendants' motion to dismiss. Baker v. Kingsley, 387 F.3d 649, 660 (7th Cir. 2004). In 1990 Dawson was convicted of certain criminal charges and placed on three years' probation with a suspended sentence of six years. In September 1992 Dawson's probation officer filed a notice of probation violation and a hearing was scheduled. The hearing was rescheduled several times due to the unavailability of the State's witnesses. On February 5, 1993, Dawson moved for a continuance. This motion was granted but the hearing was never rescheduled.

On June 12, 2000, approximately ten years after being placed on three years' probation and eight years after the alleged probation violation, the State filed an amended notice of probation violation. On October 23, 2000, Judge Newman revoked Dawson's probation and imposed the six-year term of incarceration. Dawson appealed. On July 18, 2001, the Indiana

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Court of Appeals held that Dawson's probation revocation was improper as it occurred long after his term of probation had expired. See Dawson v. State, 751 N.E.2d 812, 815 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001). The case was remanded to Judge Newman and he immediately entered a docket order mandating Dawson's release. Someone in Judge Newman's office faxed a copy of the Indiana Court of Appeals' decision to the DOC, but the release order itself was never transmitted. E-mails were sent between DOC employees indicating that Dawson was going to be released due to his successful appeal, and he was transferred from the Kentucky correctional facility where he was incarcerated to Plainfield Correctional in Indiana for "possible release on appeal."

But while the wheels of Dawson's imminent release ostensibly were moving forward, he remained in custody for another fourteen months. He did not question his incarceration, as he had not been informed of the Court of Appeals' decision and believed his appeal was still pending. On September 6, 2002, Dawson was finally released, but not as a completely free man; he was instead ordered to report for parole supervision. He reported as ordered, but by this time he had learned about the Indiana Court of Appeals' decision and Judge Newman's docket order and protested to parole officials that his placement on parole supervision was improper. Dawson's protests apparently fell on deaf ears. Dawson told his parole officer, Betty Weist, that he had been ordered released and should not be on parole. This prompted Weist to contact Judge Newman's court staff for advice, but none was forthcoming. Weist's supervisor, Victoria Fafata, told her to continue Dawson's parole supervision. Dawson's attorney got involved, and the matter was referred up the chain of command to Arthur Hegewald, Supervisor of Parole Services. Hegewald seemed unconcerned and declined to meet with Dawson's attorney, indicating that the snafu "did not matter" because Dawson's parole would soon expire of its own accord.

Dawson filed this lawsuit in state court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Judge Newman, the DOC, and DOC parole officials Weist, Fafata, and Hegewald. The defendants removed the case to federal court and Dawson amended the complaint to add Madison County Clerk of Court Kathy Stoops-Wright as a defendant. Dawson filed a second amended complaint, alleging due process, equal protection, wrongful imprisonment, and cruel and unusual punishment violations, and also asserting state law claims for false imprisonment. The State defendants – Judge Newman, the DOC, and the parole officials – moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), asserting absolute immunity. As noted, Stoops-Wright filed an answer and did not join the motion to dismiss.

The district court dismissed the federal claims with prejudice, concluding that the judge was entitled to absolute judicial immunity and the DOC and the parole officials...

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