Smith v. Stoner

Decision Date26 September 1984
Docket NumberCiv. No. F 82-364.
Citation594 F. Supp. 1091
PartiesHarold L. SMITH, Plaintiff, v. John W. STONER, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana





Ernest M. Beal, Jr., Parrish, Knight & Beal, Fort Wayne, Ind., for plaintiff.

Joe A. Rowe, Rowe, Laur & Spindler, Kendallville, Ind., for defendants.


LEE, District Judge.

This matter is before the court for a decision on the merits following a bench trial. The case deals with alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This court, having examined and considered the entire record and having determined the credibility of the witnesses, after viewing their demeanor and considering their interests, and being duly advised, hereby enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Findings of Fact

The plaintiff, Harold L. Smith (Smith) is a resident of Noble County, Indiana and is a former employee of the Monsanto Corporation located in Ligonier, Indiana. Beginning on January 1, 1976 and continuing until December 31, 1982, the defendant, John W. Stoner (Stoner) was the duly elected, qualified and acting Sheriff of Noble County, Indiana. Beginning on January 1, 1983, and at the present time, the defendant, Donald R. Leitch, was the duly elected, qualified and acting Sheriff of Noble County, Indiana, and is being sued only in his official capacity as Sheriff of Noble County, Indiana. Jurisdiction and venue is present and is conceded by the parties.

On May 27, 1981, the Honorable Robert C. Probst, Judge of the Noble Circuit Court, without the intervention of a jury, found the plaintiff guilty on two counts of causing a death while driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Following the conviction, a prolonged and extensive presentence investigation was conducted. Sentencing was delayed to allow the establishment of a specific work release program for Smith. On February 24, 1982, Judge Probst entered a judgment of conviction. Judge Probst imposed a five year sentence on each count, with both sentences to run concurrently; placed Smith in the Noble County Work Release Program for a period of five years; and committed him to the custody of the Sheriff of Noble County for placement in the Noble County Jail where a work release program was in operation.

The Noble Circuit Court ordered Smith to surrender to the custody of the Sheriff of Noble County, Indiana, on Saturday, February 27, 1982 to commence serving his sentence. It had been, and is, the practice and policy of Judge Probst that persons committed to the county jail will serve no more than a maximum of one hundred eighty (180) days. At the end of six (6) months and sometimes earlier, if such individual has abided by all the rules and regulations of the jail and is on a work release program, he or she will be released and placed on probation.

Stoner was not opposed to the concept of work release. However, Stoner did not believe felons should be placed on work release. He also had concerns about the administration of the program, with particular concern about sufficient jail personnel to implement the program. It was wholly within the Sheriff of Noble County's discretion as to whether the work release program could be created or remain in existence.

The court takes judicial notice of I.C. XX-XX-X-X,1 I.C. XX-XX-X-X,2 and I.C. XX-XX-X-X.5.3 The court also takes judicial notice of I.C. XX-XX-X-X,4 I.C. XX-X-XX-X5 and I.C. XX-X-XX-X.6 All of the acts complained of herein occurred under color of state law.

On February 27, 1982, Smith surrendered himself to the Noble County Sheriff to start the service of his sentence. Smith left the confines of the Noble County Jail five days a week, from approximately 2:45 p.m. until approximately 12:45 a.m., in order to attend employment. Smith visited his psychologist in Fort Wayne, Indiana, once a week. While Smith was an inmate at the Noble County Jail, and in accordance with the terms of his sentence, Smith was subject to the rules and regulations contained in the "Noble County Jail Inmates Handbook." Plaintiff's Exhibit 1.

On June 17, 1982, five notices of alleged jail rule violations by Harold Smith were issued. All five notices were signed by the Senior Jail Commander, Michael A. Lawson, Sr., on June 13, 1982. Jail Commander Lawson was not a witness to any of the incidents. Three of the notices charged violations of Major Rule 2, harassing inmates, and were accompanied by case reports prepared by the Jail Commander. Plaintiff's Exhibits 9, 10, 12, 13, 15. The other two notices charged violations of Major Rule 1, assaulting another inmate (Jimenez incident) and Major Rule 9, making a sexual proposal to an inmate (Ratliff incident). Case reports were also given to Smith regarding these incidents. Plaintiff's Exhibits 7, 8, 18, 19. Plaintiff received no written statements from the complaining parties.

The date of the Jimenez incident was alleged to be June 10, 1982, although Commander Lawson stated that the date of June 10, 1982 was the date the complaint was made to him. The time of the incident was unknown. The date and time of the Ratliff incident was alleged to be "unknown." These facts appeared on the case reports. Plaintiff's Exhibits 8, 19.

Each notice of jail rule violation detailed the basic rights required by state law to be given to a person accused of violating a rule of the penal facility in which he is imprisoned. Those basic legal requirements are set forth in I.C. XX-XX-X-X(c) and I.C. XX-XX-X-X.5. Some of those basic rights are also set forth in the Noble County Jail Inmate Rules of Conduct Handbook, developed, as required, by state law, I.C. XX-XX-X-X, and in the State of Indiana Department of Correction Adult Authority Disciplinary Policy Procedures Handbook. Plaintiff's Exhibit 1 at page 1; Plaintiff's Exhibit 6, ¶ 14. The five notices also informed Smith that a hearing on the matters would be conducted on June 22, 1982 at 8:00 p.m. Plaintiff's Exhibits 7, 9, 12, 15, 18.

The Noble County Jail Inmate Rules of Conduct Handbook provides, in pertinent part:

Violation of rules will be reported in writing to the senior or commanding officer on duty (Officer in Charge) within 24 hours. Any officer or matron at his or her discretion may place any inmate in isolation pending a hearing without approval from the Officer in Charge for violation of the rules and regulations. The reason and circumstances of any inmate being disciplined shall be reviewed within 24 hours by the Sheriff or his designee.
If the officer reviewing said discipline believes the violation is of a nature that the inmate should be reclassified as to credit time, he may submit the charges to a hearing officer within ten (10) days of the incident.
. . . . .
A request for review of the decision of the hearing officer must be made in writing to the Sheriff or his designee within seventy two (72) hours of the decision. The Sheriff or his deisgnee sic may reduce the amount of penalty of the disciplinary action but may not increase it.

Plaintiff's Exhibit 1 at p. 1. When implementing these rules, the Sheriff's Department customarily refrains from issuing charges on stale events and trivial matters. All of the incidents occurred more than twenty-four (24) hours before they were reported to the Officer in Charge and more than ten (10) days before the Reviewing Officer submitted the charges to the Hearing Officer.

After Smith received the notices of jail rule violations and the accompanying case reports, he was segregated from the work release cell. Smith was placed in a single person cell. Smith remained in a single person cell throughout the proceedings which followed. Smith was removed from the work release program prior to his hearing. Thus, he was not permitted to go to work at Monsanto prior to his scheduled hearing date of June 22, 1982.

In his "Sheriff's Weekly Report of Persons Confined in Jail," dated June 19, 1982, Stoner listed Smith's work release as "cancelled" and also noted that Smith was undergoing a conduct investigation. Plaintiff's Exhibit 3(b). Stoner used identical language in describing Smith's status in his weekly report dated June 26, 1982. Plaintiff's Exhibit 3(c). These weekly reports were the means by which Judge Probst, who had sentenced Smith, learned of the problem which had arisen regarding Smith and his presence in the work release program at the Noble County Jail.

Smith contacted his employer, Monsanto, the morning after he received the notices of alleged violations of jail rules. Smith believed, after Stephen Stoner had spoken with the Monsanto representative on the telephone, that he had a leave of absence of some kind. Smith's belief was based on statements made to him by Stephen Stoner after Stephen Stoner had spoken with the Monsanto representative. In fact, Smith had not obtained any type of leave of absence from his employment at Monsanto. Monsanto terminated Smith from its employment, effective June 29, 1982, due to Smith's absence from eleven consecutive scheduled days of work. Plaintiff's Exhibit 28. Plaintiff knew that if he did not have a leave of absence, he needed to speak with Monsanto every day regarding his attendance because unexplained, unreported absences led to termination of employment. Smith was not able to contact Monsanto again after the morning of June 17, 1982. Stoner notified Monsanto on June 29, 1982, that Smith's work release had been cancelled.

In the intervening days between June 17, 1982 and June 22, 1982, Smith was not able or allowed to make any type of investigation of the five pending violations against him nor was he able to...

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