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Brooks-Albrechtsen v. Individual Members of Indiana State Board of Law Examiners

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 13, 2017

MARK A. BROOKS-ALBRECHTSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THE INDIANA STATE BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS et al., Defendants.

          ENTRY REGARDING JURISDICTION

          HON. WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, JUDGE.

         The Court, by separate order, granted the Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. See Dkt. No. 36. The Court now reviews the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 37, to determine whether it has jurisdiction over the claims therein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the allegations in the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 37, and the Indiana Supreme Court's order in In re the Application of M.B., Case No. 94S00-1602-BL-89 (Ind. Feb. 16, 2016), Dkt. No. 17.

         The Plaintiff, Mark A. Brooks-Albrechtsen, graduated from a law school in Ohio in May 2015. He moved to Indiana and applied to take the Indiana bar examination in July 2015. On May 19, 2015, the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners (the “Board”), pursuant to the Indiana Rules of Court, Rules for Admission to the Bar and the Discipline of Attorneys (the “Admission and Discipline Rules”), required the Plaintiff to appear before it for inquiry into his character and fitness. The Board required the Plaintiff to answer questions regarding a sealed misdemeanor conviction and a prior employment termination, both of which he had disclosed on his bar application. Following the Plaintiff's appearance, the Board approved his application to take the July 2015 bar examination, which he failed.

         The Plaintiff applied to take the bar examination again in 2016. In his application for the February examination, he disclosed that he was “self-employed by Albrechtsen Law, a limited liability corporation” and that he drafted complaints, memos, and briefs, and performed legal research for licensed attorneys. Dkt. No. 37 at ¶ 23. The Board sent the Plaintiff a notice on January 29, 2016, informing him that, to allow it to make a determination on his application, he would have to appear before the Board. The appearance request stated, in relevant part:

Admission and Discipline Rule 12 requires the State Board of Law Examiners to certify to the Indiana Supreme Court that applicants for admission to the bar have the requisite good moral character and fitness to practice law. In order for the Board to make a determination on your application, it will be necessary for you to personally appear before the Board at its upcoming meeting.

Id. at ¶ 17. The Plaintiff emailed the Board seeking additional information regarding the appearance. The Board responded, indicating only that it had “‘questions about [the Plaintiff's] application.'” Id. at ¶ 20. It did not provide him with additional detail.

         On January 31, 2016, the Plaintiff sent a letter to Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush asking that Admission and Discipline Rule 12 Section 5 be amended to require a more detailed notice that would allow individuals required to appear before the Board to better prepare for their appearances. In his letter, the Plaintiff stated that he had “no idea why the Board has commanded [his] appearance, and upon inquiry, the Board declines to provide any information whatsoever regarding the subject-matter of the meeting.” Id. at ¶ 27. On February 5, 2016, Chief Justice Rush informed the Plaintiff that she “‘sent an inquiry to the Board of Law Examiners as to the issues [the Plaintiff] set forth [in his January 31, 2016, letter].'” Id. at ¶ 22.

         The Plaintiff appeared before the Board on February 12, 2016, and was permitted to answer questions posed to him by the Board, but “was not given any opportunity to put on a defense, make any statements, examine his accusers, or make any arguments.” Id. at ¶ 29. The Board and the Plaintiff discussed the Plaintiff's letter to Chief Justice Rush and his current employment through his company, Albrechtsen Law. The Board believed that the Plaintiff's statement to Chief Justice Rush (“I have no idea why the Board has commanded my appearance”) was false and that he violated Rule of Professional Conduct Guideline 9.1 while self-employed through Albrechtsen law.[1] As a result, the Board issued a verbal decision at the meeting, declining to let the Plaintiff take the February 2016 bar examination and prohibiting him from reapplying for bar admission until February 2018.

         Following his appearance before the Board, the Plaintiff filed an “Emergency Petition for Writ of Prohibition” to the Indiana Supreme Court because he understood the Board's verbal denial to be a final action as described in Admission and Discipline Rule 14 Section 2.[2] See Dkt. No. 31 at 2. He sought to have the Board's decision overturned so that he could sit for the February 2016 bar examination. In response, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an order on February 16, 2016, dismissing the Plaintiff's petition as procedurally premature. See Dkt. No. 17. It explained that “pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 12, section 7, [3] M.B. would have the right to file a written request with the Board for a formal hearing concerning its determination” and that “there has been no final action of the Board because the hearing mentioned in [Admission and Discipline] Rule 12, sections 7 and 9, has not occurred and a final determination thereafter has not been made by the Board.” Id.

         On February 15, 2016, a day before the Indiana Supreme Court issued its order, the Board provided the Plaintiff with written confirmation of its February 12, 2016, meeting decision. The Board determined, in part, as follows:

After careful and deliberate consideration, the Board determined that you have failed to sustain the burden of proof that you possess the requisite character and fitness to be admitted to the practice of law. As a result, the Board has denied your application to sit for the bar examination and to practice law in the state of Indiana. The Board further determined, based upon the facts presented, that you shall not be permitted to reapply for admission to the Indiana Bar until the February 2018 examination . . . As a result of the Board's determination, you will not be permitted to take the bar examination and your application has therefore been denied and dismissed.

Dkt. No. 37 at ¶ 35.

         On February 18, 2016, the Plaintiff filed suit in this Court, alleging that the individual members of the Board in their official capacities violated his equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on February 24, 2016, which the Defendants moved to dismiss.

         The Plaintiff also timely requested a hearing before the Board pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 12 sections 7 and 9. The request was served on the Board on February 29, 2016. The Plaintiff did not hear any further from the ...


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