The Indiana Court of Appeals held that a woman was denied due process in small claims court when the court reporter presided over an initial hearing and ordered the woman to move out of her apartment.
Daniel Capps filed a small claims complaint against tenant Lisa Reynolds for ejectment, damages and rent. A trial date was set for Sept. 13, 2011. The complaint stated the claim would be heard by the court at a trial in Sullivan Superior Court.
No judge was present for the hearing; instead, it was conducted by the court reporter. No witnesses were sworn or evidence heard. The court reporter repeatedly said that evidence relating to the allegations would be heard later. The court reporter then gave Reynolds a pre-signed “initial hearing/judgment order” form requiring her to move out of the apartment.
At a damages hearing held by a judge Sept. 30, 2011, Reynolds was ordered to pay $975.
The appellate court was concerned that there was no transcript of the hearing and that the trial court judge, who was not present at the hearing, certified a statement of evidence for Reynolds from that hearing.
“It is an understatement to say that the hearing proceeded from the outset under the expectation that Capps was entitled to immediate possession of the premises,” wrote Judge Michael Barnes in Lisa Reynolds v. Daniel Capps, No. 77A05-1110-SC-567. “Even taking into account the informality of the small claims process, if the hearings on evictions are regularly conducted without a judicial officer present, we pointedly and directly express our concern and expect that situation to be remedied.”
The Sept. 13 hearing did not satisfy minimum due process requirements, including that a judge or someone authorized to do so preside over the hearing. Reynolds wasn’t allowed the opportunity to defend against the ejectment and then was given a pre-signed order. The judges reversed the trial court.