ILNews

Supreme Court upholds denial of continuance

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The majority of justices on the Indiana Supreme Court agreed that the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying a married couple's pro se motion to continue after their attorney withdrew six weeks before trial. The dissenting justice argued because of the complexities of the case, the trial court should have granted the couple's motion.

In Rudrappa and Jayashree Gunashekar v. Kay Grose d/b/a/ America's Affordable Housing, J&K Manufacturing, No. 02S03-0812-CV-762, the Supreme Court affirmed 4-1 the denial of the Gunashekars' motion to continue and the convictions of breach of contract, conversion, and deception. The Gunashekars hired Kay Grose's company to repair fire damage to property they leased and had insured. Grose claimed after she completed the work that Rudrappa refused to pay from his insurance proceeds, forged her name on the back of the insurance check, and wrote her a check that was returned unpaid.

The Gunashekars originally were represented by an attorney, but he withdrew six weeks prior to trial. The trial court made clear in its pretrial order that no removals or continuances of any settings or deadlines were permitted. The Gunashekars didn't obtain a new attorney and filed a pro se motion for a continuance, which the trial court denied. They appeared pro se at the trial, in which the trial court entered judgment for Grose finding the couple was jointly and severally liable for $147,000 and Rudrappa was liable for an additional $296,000 for treble damages and attorney fees.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of motion to continue and didn't rule on any other issues.

But the Supreme Court found the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying the motion because the Gunashekars didn't indicate to the court they were diligent in trying to find a new attorney or whether they did anything after their original counsel withdrew, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"If any inference can be drawn from the unexplained passage of six weeks from the time their attorney withdrew, it is that they were not forced to proceed without an attorney," he wrote.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, writing that although it may be correct to say the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying the pro se motion, the denial is grounds for reversal. The case presented a level of complexity involving insurance proceeds, joint and several liability, contract compliance, and other issues that few, if any, pro se litigants would be able to successfully navigate, he wrote.

"With a potential exposure, and indeed an ultimate adverse judgment, of nearly a half million dollars the Gunashekars needed the assistance of trained legal counsel," Justice Rucker continued. "Fairness and equity required the trial court to afford the Gunashekars a reasonable delay to accomplish this end."

The majority also affirmed the judgment against both defendants, Rudrappa's forgery constituted conversion, Rudrappa committed conversion, and the award of attorney fees.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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