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Reed v. White

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 18, 2018

Anthony Wayne Reed, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Leann White and Darrin Chaney, Appellees-Defendants.

          Appeal from the Putnam Superior Court Trial Court Cause No. 67D01-1706-MI-30 The Honorable Charles D. Bridges, Judge

          Appellant Pro Se Anthony W. Reed Greencastle, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Abigail R. Recker Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          NAJAM, JUDGE.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Anthony Wayne Reed appeals the trial court's order dismissing his complaint against Leann White and Darrin Chaney. Reed presents a single issue for our review, namely, whether the trial court erred when it dismissed his complaint for a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On December 11, 2015, Reed, who was then incarcerated at the Putnamville Correctional Facility ("PCF"), mailed four handmade crosses[1] to family members. However, on December 30, two envelopes containing three of the crosses were returned to PCF for insufficient postage. Reed was notified of the problem, but the crosses were not returned to him, and he was not able to resend them to his family members. Reed later learned that White, who worked in the PCF mail room, had confiscated the crosses. White, in turn, gave the crosses to Chaney, an internal affairs officer for the PCF Security Threat Group ("STG").

         [¶3] After Reed filed an informal grievance with PCF on January 20, 2016, he was informed that "STG policy 02-03-105 prohibits the possession, making or display of any handmade jewelry (rings, necklaces and bracelets) by [the] offender population as these items can be used to show STG [sic] affiliation by utilizing color and symbols." Appellant's App. at 13. Reed responded by stating that the colors used in making the crosses were "not in any way connected with any (known) Gang-memberships." Id. at 15. Reed then filed with the Indiana Department of Correction ("IDOC") a Grievance Appeal, which was denied.

         [¶4] On June 13, Reed filed a tort claim notice with IDOC, and on October 26, Reed filed a complaint against White and Chaney with the trial court.[2] In his complaint, Reed alleged that the reason given for White's confiscation of the crosses was invalid, White did not follow IDOC policies governing the seizure of items in the mail, and White and Chaney committed "criminal conversion" when they took the crosses. Id. at 20. The trial court dismissed Reed's complaint, stating that he had failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, "as the Defendants were following IDOC policies and procedures." Appellant's Br. at 12. This appeal ensued.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶5] Indiana Code Section 34-58-1-2 provides that a trial court shall screen complaints filed by an offender to "determine if the claim may proceed." A claim may not proceed if the court determines that the claim is not a claim upon which relief may be granted. Id. We review de novo a trial court's dismissal of an offender's complaint under this statute. Guillen v. R.D.C. Mail Clerk, 922 N.E.2d 121, 122 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010). Like the trial court, we look only to the well-pleaded facts contained in the complaint. Id. The statute is akin to a legislative interpretation of Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6), [3] a rule which has given judges in civil cases the authority "to consider a case in its early stages and, taking everything the plaintiff has alleged as true, determine whether it can proceed." Id. at 122-23 (quoting Peterson v. Lambert, 885 N.E.2d 719, 720 (Ind.Ct.App. 2008)).

         [¶6] Indiana Code Chapter 34-13-3 governs tort claims against governmental entities and employees. As relevant here, Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-5(c) provides as follows:

A lawsuit filed against an employee personally must allege that an act or omission of the employee that ...

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