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Sargent v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 24, 2015

DETONA SARGENT, Appellant (Defendant below),

Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49D07-1111-MI-44802. The Honorable Michael Keele, Judge. On Petition To Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A02-1209-MI-708.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Andrew Ault, Abshishek Chaudhary, Indiana Legal Services, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana; John F. Brengle, Indiana Legal Services, Inc., New Albany, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; David Lee Steiner, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Rucker, Justice. Rush, C.J., and Dickson, J., concur. David, J., dissents with separate opinion in which Massa, J., joins. Massa, J., dissents with separate opinion.


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Rucker, Justice.

On cross-motions for summary judgment the trial court deemed a vehicle forfeited and awarded the same to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. However the undisputed facts disclose the vehicle's owner is entitled to possession. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Facts and Procedural History

The State of Indiana, the City of Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (collectively " the State" ) filed a complaint against Detona Sargent seeking forfeiture of her 1996 Buick Century automobile worth approximately $1,700.00. The State's action was pursued under what is commonly referred to as the " Civil Forfeiture Statute." See Ind. Code § § 34-24-1 et seq. More particularly Indiana Code section 34-24-1-1(a) provides in relevant part:

The following may be seized: (1) All vehicles . . . if they are used or are intended for use by the person or persons

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in possession of them to transport or in any manner to facilitate the transportation of the following: . . . (B) Any stolen . . . or converted property . . . if the retail or repurchase value of that property is one hundred dollars ($100) or more.

In this summary judgment action on the State's complaint for forfeiture the undisputed facts as shown bye the materials presented to the trial court are as follows. Sargent was employed at a Wal-Mart return-merchandise distribution center. On September 16, 2011, she drove her 1996 Buick Century to the center. After arrival Sargent allowed a co-worker to use her car during her shift with the understanding the co-worker would return so that Sargent could drive home. Minutes before Sargent was scheduled to leave for the day, she grabbed four iPhones in their original packaging and stuffed them under her shirt. The phones had a retail value of approximately $1,200.00. As Sargent attempted to leave the center she was stopped and detained by a store manager and was subsequently searched by a staff member, which revealed the four iPhones. An officer of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department arrived on the scene and was present as the store manager questioned Sargent. During questioning, Sargent told the manager " to go outside to make sure that[,] if [her co-worker] was [in Sargent's car] waiting, she should stop waiting and go home because [Sargent] would not be coming out." App. at 16. Based on this information the officer went to the parking lot to search for Sargent's vehicle. The officer located the car and found " a female in the driver's seat[.]" Id. 27. The vehicle was towed, and Sargent was arrested for theft. On January 10, 2012, under terms of an agreement, Sargent pleaded guilty to theft as a Class D felony and was sentenced to 365 days in the Department of Correction with all but four days suspended to probation.

Twenty days after Sargent pleaded guilty the State moved for summary judgment on its forfeiture complaint and Sargent responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment. After a hearing the trial court granted the State's motion and denied Sargent's motion. On appeal Sargent argued (1) there was no nexus between her attempted theft and the vehicle she used to come to work; and (2) her vehicle was exempt from execution by operation of the Indiana Constitution[1] and Indiana's civil exemption statute. The Court of Appeals rejected both claims and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. See Sargent v. State, 985 N.E.2d 1108 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013), vacated. Having previously granted transfer we now reverse the judgment of the trial court. Additional facts are set forth below.

Standard of Review

When reviewing a grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment our standard of review is the same as it is for the trial court. Kroger Co. v. Plonski, 930 N.E.2d 1, 4 (Ind. 2010). The moving party " bears the initial burden of making a prima facie showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Gill v. Evansville Sheet Metal ...

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