Martin v. Brown

Decision Date29 July 2021
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals Case No. 21A-CT-85
Citation172 N.E.3d 711 (Table)
CourtIndiana Appellate Court
Parties Kevin MARTIN, Appellant-Defendant, v. Richard BROWN, Appellee-Plaintiff.

Appellant Pro Se: Kevin Martin, Carlisle, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee: Theodore E. Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana, Natalie F. Weiss, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana


Tavitas, Judge.

Case Summary

[1] Inmate Kevin Martin filed a complaint in the Sullivan Superior Court alleging an array of claims against nine Indiana Department of Corrections officials and employees. After the defendants filed their answer, Martin sought leave to file an amended complaint, which the trial court denied. The defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Martin then filed this appeal pro se. We find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Martin's motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Moreover, Martin failed to establish that there are genuine issues of material fact, and, thus, the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the defendants. We affirm.


[2] Martin raises two issues, which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court erred in denying Martin's motion for leave to file an amended complaint.
II. Whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

[3] Martin was, during the pertinent times, an inmate at the Wabash Correctional Facility ("Wabash") in Sullivan County. The defendants, all employees of Wabash, are as follows: Theresa Littlejohn, Richard Brown, Christopher Nicholson, Randall Purcell, Eric Drada, David Gilstrap, Blake McDonald, Major Dusty Russell, and Sergeant Melinda Wilson.1

[4] On July 23, 2018, Martin filed a complaint wherein he alleged: (1) corrections officers broke Martin's fan in retaliation for Martin filing a grievance; (2) corrections officers engaged in a pattern of discrimination against Martin on the basis of Martin's race, as well as for retaliation for Martin's legitimate exercise of his First Amendment right (for filing a grievance); (3) Wilson and Drada were "messing" with Martin's food as retaliation for some sort of battery incident involving McDonald;2 and (4) Purcell directed racial slurs toward Martin and improperly confiscated Martin's papers, also as retaliation for Martin's previous grievance filing.3 Appellee's App. Vol. II pp. 2-7.

[5] After the defendants filed their answer, Martin filed a motion for leave to amend the complaint, which the trial court denied on October 22, 2018. Discovery proceeded, and on November 25, 2020, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims. On December 28, 2020, the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.


[6] As an initial matter, we note that Martin proceeds pro se, and we, therefore, reiterate that "a pro se litigant is held to the same standards as a trained attorney and is afforded no inherent leniency simply by virtue of being self-represented." Zavodnik v. Harper , 17 N.E.3d 259, 266 (Ind. 2014). "This means that pro se litigants are bound to follow the established rules of procedure and must be prepared to accept the consequences of their failure to do so." Picket Fence Prop. Co. v. Davis , 109 N.E.3d 1021, 1029 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) (citing Basic v. Amouri , 58 N.E.3d 980, 983-84 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) ), trans. denied. Although we prefer to decide cases on their merits, arguments are waived where an appellant's noncompliance with the rules of appellate procedure is so substantial it impedes our appellate consideration of the errors. Id.

[7] Indiana Appellate Rule 46(A)(8)(a) requires that the argument section of a brief "contain the contentions of the appellant on the issues presented, supported by cogent reasoning. Each contention must be supported by citations to the authorities, statutes, and the Appendix or parts of the Record on Appeal relied on ...." We will not consider an assertion on appeal when there is no cogent argument supported by authority and there are no references to the record as required by the rules. Id. " We will not become an advocate for a party or address arguments that are inappropriate or too poorly developed or expressed to be understood.’ " Picket Fence , 109 N.E.3d at 1029 (quoting Basic , 58 N.E.3d at 984 ).

I. Amended Complaint

[8] Martin contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Indiana Trial Rule 15(A) governs amendments to pleadings and provides as follows:

A party may amend his pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served or, if the pleading is one to which no responsive pleading is permitted, and the action has not been placed upon the trial calendar, he may so amend it at any time within thirty [30] days after it is served. Otherwise a party may amend his pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be given when justice so requires. A party shall plead in response to an amended pleading within the time remaining for response to the original pleading or within twenty [20] days after service of the amended pleading, whichever period may be the longer, unless the court otherwise orders.

[9] "Amendments to pleadings are to be liberally allowed, but the trial court retains broad discretion in granting or denying amendments." Miller v. Patel , 160 N.E.3d 1111, 1115 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020) (citing Hilliard v. Jacobs , 927 N.E.2d 393, 398 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), trans. denied ). "We will reverse upon a showing of only an abuse of that discretion." Id.

An abuse of discretion may occur if the trial court's decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court, or if the court has misinterpreted the law. Fleming v. Int'l Pizza Supply Corp. , 707 N.E.2d 1033, 1036 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied. We consider whether a trial court's ruling on a motion to amend is an abuse of discretion by evaluating a number of factors, including "undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiency by amendment previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the amendment, and futility of the amendment." Palacios v. Kline , 566 N.E.2d 573, 575 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991).

Hilliard , 927 N.E. 2d at 398.

[10] Because his arguments are not cogent, Martin has waived the claim that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Furthermore, Martin fails to explain why justice required that his motion for leave to amend be granted. We reproduce a representative portion of Martin's argument on this point here:

And also affidavit by William Jones state in relevant part fact that bring it conflict Circumstantial evidence may suffice to indicate that Brown the warden had knowledge of a violation when allegations are supported by corresponding evidence such as institutional appeals Form that martin first -8-14 amendment right was violation. This immunity is only waived if a claimant meet the requirement "to file a notice of tort claim with the governing body of the political with 180 days after the loss occurs. Martin meet this require and should with to trial.

Appellant's Br. pp. 17-18 (citations omitted) (errors in the original). This is not a cogent argument that the trial court abused its discretion when refusing to allow an amended complaint. Accordingly, the issue is waived, and we do not address it further. See Ind. Appellate Rule 46(A)(8) ; Loomis v. Ameritech Corp. , 764 N.E.2d 658, 668 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002) (holding that the failure to present a cogent argument waives the issue for appellate review), trans. denied.

II. Summary Judgment

[11] Martin further argues that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment to the defendants. "When this Court reviews a grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment, we ‘stand in the shoes of the trial court.’ " Burton v. Benner , 140 N.E.3d 848, 851 (Ind. 2020) (quoting Murray v. Indianapolis Public Schools , 128 N.E.3d 450, 452 (Ind. 2019) ). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the designated evidentiary matter shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Murray , 128 N.E.3d at 452 ; see also Ind. Trial Rule 56(C).

[12] The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Burton , 140 N.E.3d at 851. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show the existence of a genuine issue. Id. On appellate review, we resolve "[a]ny doubt as to any facts or inferences to be drawn therefrom ... in favor of the non-moving party." Id. We review the trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo, and we take "care to ensure that no party is denied his day in court." Schoettmer v. Wright , 992 N.E.2d 702, 706 (Ind. 2013). "We limit our review to the materials designated at the trial level." Gunderson v. State, Indiana Dep't of Nat. Res. , 90 N.E.3d 1171, 1175 (Ind. 2018), cert. denied.

[13] Once more, Martin's arguments lack the requisite cogency and are, therefore, deemed waived. Nonetheless, we would find that summary judgment was appropriate, waiver notwithstanding. When the moving party meets its initial burden, it is not sufficient for the non-movant to rely only on its pleadings or on mere allegations therein. See, e.g., Brown v. Buchmeier , 994 N.E.2d 291, 295 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013) (citing Crawford v. City of Muncie , 655 N.E.2d 614, 619 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995) ). Rather:

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise

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