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High court grants 6 transfers

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The Indiana Supreme Court took six cases last week, including two cases of first impression before the Indiana Court of Appeals involving attorney’s fees under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute and the modification of a felony conviction to a misdemeanor.  

In Jeffery H. McCabe, As Representative of the Estate of Jean Francis McCabe, Decedent v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Insurance as Administrator of the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, No. 49S02-1010-CV-602, Jeffrey McCabe appealed the grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the commissioner, and Indiana Department of Insurance as administrator of the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund. The trial court had ruled attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the attorney representing the personal representative of a wrongful death estate are not recoverable damages under the state Adult Wrongful Death Statute.

McCabe cited Hillebrand v. Supervised Estate of Large, 914 N.E.2d 846 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), to support his argument, but the appellate court noted Hillebrand is distinguishable from the instant case because it was a probate case deciding from which probate assets attorney’s fees incurred should be paid, and it precedes both the Child Wrongful Death Statute and the AWDS. The judges also relied on Butler v. Indiana Department of Insurance, 904 N.E.2d, 198, 202 (Ind. 2009), in which the Supreme Court held that the “include but not limited to” language doesn’t expand the class of necessitated expenses.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented, believing Hillebrand, Butler, and Estate of Kuba, (508 N.E.2d 1, 2 (Ind. 1987), permitted reasonable attorney’s fees to be considered recoverable damages under the AWDS. A separate panel of judges ruled in September in Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Beverly S. Brown, et al., No. 49A02-1001-CT-80, that attorney’s fees and other costs can be awarded under the AWDS. That panel used Judge Riley’s dissent to support its decision.

In State of Indiana v. Jeffrey Brunner, No. 57S04-1010-CR-603, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions the trial court’s modification of Jeffrey Brunner’s criminal sentence from a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor nine years after he pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The judges examined Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-7(b), which the trial court used to modify his sentence, and found that the decision on whether to enter judgment on a Class D felony or Class A misdemeanor must be made at the moment of the original entry of the judgment of conviction. Judge Edward Najam said the trial court’s reliance on that statute to grant the requested relief was contrary to the plain meaning of the statute and an abuse of discretion.

In Susanne C. Gaudin, et al. v. J.W. Austin, president, et al., No. 07S04-1010-CV-600, Susanne Gaudin and other plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief upon learning the Brown County Commissioners enacted an ordinance in January 2009 purporting to dissolve a fire district. That district was created by a September 2007 ordinance. The plaintiffs alleged the dissolution ordinance was void because no petition to dissolve the district or repeal the ordinance establishing it had been filed.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the commissioners, ruling there's no reason to conclude that a governing body with the authority to establish the fire protection district doesn't have similar authority to dissolve it, but the Court of Appeals held county commissioners had no authority to enact the ordinance to attempt to dissolve the fire district.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard recused himself from hearing this case based on his involvement in leading the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, which provided recommendations for a leaner local government structure in the Kernan-Shepard report.

In Steven and Lauren Siwinski v. Town of Ogden Dunes, No. 64S03-1010-CV-599, the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for Ogden Dunes in its complaint against the Siwinskis alleging they violated an ordinance by renting out their house for periods of fewer than 30 days, which constituted a commercial use. The judges held nothing in the designated evidence established that any commerce or other activities not associated with a residence were ever conducted on the Siwinskis' property, nor did the evidence show that, at any time, the property was occupied by more than a single family simultaneously. They remanded for summary judgment to be entered in favor of the Siwinskis.

The Supreme Court granted transfer to two cases involving the same incident. In Damion Wilkins v. State of Indiana, No. 02S03-1010-CR-604, and Cornelius Tyrone Lacey Sr. v. State of Indiana, No. 02S05-1010-CR-601, the Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Damion Wilkins’ and Cornelius Lacey’s motions to suppress evidence obtained during the execution of a search warrant. During a trash pull at a suspected cocaine and marijuana dealer’s home, Lacey, police found mail addressed to Wilkins. He was at Lacey’s home when police decided to serve a search warrant in a “no-knock” fashion for officer safety and rammed the door down.

The appellate judges found there was probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant but the unilateral decision to dispense with the knock-and-announce rule was unreasonable under the Indiana Constitution. The police, if they were worried about their safety, had time to apply for a “no-knock” warrant, but did not. The appellate court took issue with the emergency response team’s policy that authorizes a unilateral decision to enter a home without knocking when there hasn’t been an independent determination regarding the circumstances. Judge Michael Barnes concurred in result in both decisions.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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