Wheeler v. Knight, 21A-SC-2211

Case DateSeptember 15, 2022
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Tracey Wheeler, Appellant,

Wendy Knight and Jay Hall, Appellees.

No. 21A-SC-2211

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 15, 2022

Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.

Appeal from the Madison Circuit Court The Honorable Scott A. Norrick, Judge The Honorable Stephen D. Clase, Senior Judge Trial Court Cause No. 48C05-2005-SC-851

Appellant Pro Se

Tracey Wheeler Terre Haute, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee Jay Hall

Tiaundra Gordon-Foster Kate E. Trinkle Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

Attorneys for Wendy Knight

Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana

Aaron T. Craft Section Chief, Civil Appeals

Benjamin Jones Deputy Attorney General

David A. Arthur Indianapolis, Indiana




[¶1] Tracey Wheeler appeals the small claims court's judgment in favor of Wendy Knight and Jay Hall. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] On May 27, 2020, Wheeler filed a Notice of Small Claim against Knight and Hall alleging that he lost twenty-five days of wages and was entitled to reimbursement of his lost wages with interest.[1] On June 7, 2021, Wheeler filed an Amended Small Claims Complaint stating he was adding claims for pain and suffering due to the termination of his employment, the loss of his job and


class training hours toward a time cut, and the loss of the benefit of his lost wages including hygiene, food products, stamps, and envelopes.[2]

[¶3] On July 29, 2021, the court held a bench trial at which Wheeler appeared by telephone. Wheeler stated that, on the previous day, he learned of the trial date. The court asked Wheeler if he wanted a continuance, and Wheeler replied: "Nah . . . I guess since we already here, . . . I can go, but I mean I was wondering - cause I never got a chance to gather all the evidence that I needed but I'm pretty sure I got what I need . . . ." Transcript Volume II at 6. Wheeler testified that he worked for Meritor in the prison. He stated that, in 2019, he started to take materials to the library, an officer told him the library was closed, he informed the officer that he was supposed to be at work, the officer called his employer and was advised that he was not needed at work, and later another officer informed him that he was being written up on a conduct report for not returning to work. He testified that he was never in the wrong, there was a miscommunication, and the write-up was later dismissed. He testified that he was "out of work for 25 days" and the policy of the Indiana Department of Correction ("DOC") "states that whenever a person gets wrote up and removed from they job that [] they're supposed to be reimbursed for the time that they was . . . wrongly removed from they job." Id. at 8. He testified: "I was earning 70 cents an hour in which I was working approximately 10 hours a day. We was working [] 40-hour weeks." Id. at 9. He stated "what happened


they came to the conclusion to pay me $12.50 . . . in back pay for the 25 days that I was out," "I didn't agree with that," "that was only reimbursement for 2 days' worth of wages," and "I was entitled to . . . roughly . . . $180.00 to . . . $175.00 dollars, I believe." Id.

[¶4] Wheeler testified "[t]he lost wages come from 'cause . . . when you received a conduct report, you are removed from your job, until that conduct report is resolved." Id. at 11. He indicated that his conduct report had been overturned following a hearing. On cross-examination by the deputy attorney general, Wheeler stated "I'm suing . . . the warden, [] Wendy Knight, and . . . my . . . job employer, uh, - Jay Hall" and "[t]hose are the people that I was informed that are supposed to pay me my money." Id. at 14. He stated, "when I filed my grievance, Wendy Knight was the person who said that I was supposed to only get twelve dollars and fifty-cent." Id. On cross-examination by Hall's counsel, Wheeler stated a grievance specialist told him that he "needed to contact Jay Hall about getting [his] back pay." Id. at 15.

[¶5] Hall testified: "I work for Meritor, I'm a contract employee for the state. I am not a state employee." Id. at 17. He indicated he did not control how much inmates were paid and that he and Meritor did not directly pay inmates. He also testified "[t]he only thing we did was report he was out of place 'cause he - he went to the um, - law library, two offenders left to go to the law library, and they didn't come back." Id. He indicated that he had nothing to do with what happened to the offenders after that.


[¶6] Wheeler stated: "I - mean the way he sound, I mean he - he says that he has no - no doins with it. . . . I don't know . . . who's supposed to pay me. . . . I only went off of what the facility staff tell me . . . . I mean if that true then its - and he has nothing to with reimbursing me for payment. It was - it was the facility staff." Id. at 18. He argued "[t]hat's the only thing . . . I'm here for, I'm here for reimbursement of the . . . wages that I would have earned . . . [p]er DOC policy." Id. at 19. Hall's counsel argued that Wheeler had filed a complaint against the same defendants in federal court. Wheeler stated that the federal suit did not raise any claim for reimbursement of lost wages. Hall's counsel stated that the federal suit raised claims under the First Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment and there was not an Indiana state law wage claim.

[¶7] The deputy attorney general argued that the payment made to Wheeler was proper. He stated "the state paid Mr. Wheeler fifty cents per day for his payment um, - which under there [sic] policy is by ICI as stated in their grievance is the amount that they do pay . . . ."[3] Id. at 23. He...

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