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Rogers v. Indiana Supreme Court

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 7, 2017

DEXTER ROGERS, Individually and as Personal Representative of the estate of Carrie Bell Rogers, estate of Premius Rogers, Plaintiff,
INDIANA SUPREME COURT, et al., Defendants.


          Susan Collins, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a “Motion to Disqualify Attorney Generals' Office from Representing the Defendants Stemming from Conflict of Interest” (DE 45) filed on January 13, 2017, by pro se Plaintiff Dexter Rogers, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Carrie Bell Rogers and the estate of Premius Rogers (“Rogers”). In the motion, Rogers seeks to disqualify the Indiana Attorney General's Office (the “IAG's Office”) and Deputy Attorney General Benjamin Jones, counsel to Defendants Indiana Supreme Court, Justice Loretta H. Rush, Justice Robert D. Rucker, Justice Stephen H. David, Justice Mark Massa, and Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter (collectively, the “State Defendants”), due to a purported conflict of interest.[1] The State Defendants filed a response to the motion on January 27, 2017 (DE 47), and Rogers filed a reply on February 1, 2017 (DE 48).

         For the following reasons, Rogers's motion to disqualify will be DENIED.

         A. Factual and Procedural Background

         On October 17, 2016, Rogers filed this case against Defendants Parkview Hospital, Inc. (“Parkview”); John Whiteleather, Jr., chairman of the medical review panel established pursuant to the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act; and the State Defendants, alleging various violations of his civil rights stemming from a medical malpractice case that he advanced against Parkview and certain medical professionals in state court. (DE 1). This is the second of three federal cases that Rogers has filed concerning various defendants' actions or inactions in connection with his state case. See Rogers v. Allen Cty. Superior Court, No. 1:16-cv-40 (N.D. Ind. filed Jan. 28, 2016); Rogers v. Office of the Attorney Gen., No. 1:16-cv-429 (N.D. Ind. filed Dec. 21, 2016).

         As Rogers sees it, Jones and the IAG's Office must be disqualified from representing the State Defendants in this action due to a purported conflict of interest arising from Attorney Kelly Paulter's previous representation of the medical professional defendants in his state case. (DE 45 ¶¶ 5-10). Paulter, who has not appeared in this action, joined the IAG's Office as an Deputy Attorney General for the Civil Litigation Section and purportedly was involved in case management there. (DE 45 ¶¶ 8, 12). Paulter, however, is no longer employed by the IAG's Office. (DE 45 ¶ 8).

         Rogers alleges that Paulter was inadvertently provided information about the status of his state case during her employment as a Deputy Attorney General. (DE 45 ¶¶ 13, 22). Rogers posits that Paulter shared this information with Jones, because Paulter and Jones have litigated some cases together during their tenure at the IAG's Office. (DE 45 ¶¶ 12, 13). Rogers contends that Jones and the IAG's Office failed to properly screen Paulter from this case. (DE 45 ¶¶ 15, 22, 24-27). Consequently, as Rogers sees it, Paulter had a conflict of interest in this action imputable to Jones and the IAG's Office, necessitating their disqualification. (DE 45 ¶¶ 30, 31).

         Rogers additionally contends that a conflict of interest exists because he filed a consumer complaint against Parkview with the IAG's Office in November 2014. (DE 45 ¶ 2). As noted earlier, Rogers has also recently filed a lawsuit against the IAG.

         On this backdrop, Rogers asks the Court to disqualify Jones and the IAG's Office from this action.

         B. Legal Framework

         Pursuant to Local Rule 83-5(e), the Northern District of Indiana has adopted the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct and the Seventh Circuit Standards of Professional Conduct as the standard of professional conduct in this Court. See N.D. Ind. L.R. 83-5(e). The following rules are relevant to Rogers's motion: Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7 (conflicts of interest: current clients); 1.9 (conflicts of interest: former clients); 1.10 (imputation of conflicts of interest); and 1.11 (special conflicts of interest for former and current government officers and employees).

         “The disqualification of an attorney is a ‘drastic measure which courts should hesitate to impose except when absolutely necessary.'” Mills v. Hausmann-McNally, S.C., 992 F.Supp.2d 885, 890 (S.D. Ind. 2014) (quoting Owen v. Wangerin, 985 F.2d 312, 317 (7th Cir. 1993)). “Accordingly, motions to disqualify are treated with ‘extreme caution.'” Id. (quoting Freeman v. Chi. Musical Instrument Co., 689 F.2d 715, 722 (7th Cir. 1982)). “Caution is warranted both because disqualification motions ‘can be misused as techniques of harassment, ' and because the consequences of disqualification are so grave-‘destroy[ing] a relationship by depriving a party of representation of their own choosing.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Freeman, 689 F.2d at 722). “[T]he moving party bears the burden of concretely establishing the necessity of disqualification.” Id. at 891 (citation omitted).

         C. Discussion

         As a threshold matter, “[t]he general rule accepted by most federal jurisdictions is that only a current or former client has standing to seek disqualification of an attorney from a matter pending before a court.” Id. (citing In re Yarn Processing Patent Validity Litig., 530 F.2d 83, 88 (5th Cir. 1976) (collecting cases); Tizes v. Curico, No. 94 C 7657, 1997 WL 116797, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 1997)). Although the rule is not absolute, [2] “courts in this circuit have made clear that the interests protected by Rule 1.7 are the crux of the standing issue.” Id. at 892. As such, “the proper party to raise the conflict of interest issue, in a motion to disqualify counsel, is the party that [Rule 1.7] was intended to ...

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