ILNews

COA rules on fireworks wholesalers' challenge

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Court of Appeals ruling today that firework wholesalers have an administrative process to determine whether Indiana Code section 22-11-14-5 requires fireworks wholesalers to obtain certificates of compliance for each location reinforces an earlier Supreme Court decision on the matter.

In Roger Johnson, as Indiana State Fire Marshal v. Patriotic Fireworks, Inc. et al., the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's denial of the fire marshal's motion to dismiss the consolidated complaints of Patriotic Fireworks and other fireworks wholesalers and remanded with instructions. The fireworks wholesalers challenged the fire marshal's requirement that fireworks wholesalers with multiple locations must obtain separate certificates of compliance for each location they operate.

At issue is whether the trial court erred in failing to dismiss Patriotic's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals, relying on Johnson v. Celebration Fireworks, Inc., 829 N.E.2d 979, 984 (Ind. 2005), found the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction.

In 1997, Patriotic filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court challenging the fire marshal's interpretation of Indiana Code 22-11-14-5 without first pursuing administrative review. Nine similar cases were consolidated with Patriotic's case.

In November 2005, the state filed a motion to dismiss the consolidated cases, saying the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Patriotic failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing the complaint. Patriotic argued the trial court should dismiss the state's argument because no administrative review existed. In April 2006, the trial court denied the state's motion for reconsideration and granted its motion to certify an interlocutory order for immediate appeal.

Citing Johnson, the Court of Appeals disagreed with Patriotic's claims that no administrative remedy existed. In Johnson, Celebration Fireworks also did not first seek administrative review through the Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission when challenging the same code. The Supreme Court found the issue whether wholesalers with multiple locations were required to obtain separate certificates for compliance can be properly resolved through the administrative process. In Johnson, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded it with instructions to dismiss Celebration's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Because Patriotic did not first pursue administrative review before being granted access to the trial court for judicial review, the Court of Appeals ruled the trial court lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded with instructions that Patriotic's complaint be dismissed.
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