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COA affirms order Amish connect to sewer system

November 29, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court’s decision to deny setting aside agreements several members of the Old Order Amish near Loogootee made to connect to a sewer system and the order that a couple hook up to the system.

West Boggs, a not-for-profit utility, sent notices to Terry and Laura Wagler, Larry and Jennifer Wagler, Norman Wagler, and Janet and Nathan Wagler ordering them to connect to the sewer system by a specific deadline pursuant to Indiana Code 8-1-2-125. The Waglers all hired the same attorney, Marilyn A. Hartman, who worked with Terry and Laura Wagler, Norman Wagler, and Larry and Jennifer Wagler to enter into agreements with the utility to hook up to the system.

But they never hooked up to the system, so West Boggs filed verified motions for rule to show cause. Around this time, Hartman stopped representing the Waglers and Dale W. Arnett became their attorney. The Waglers sought to have the agreements set aside under Ind. Trial Rule 60(B) and claimed that their religious beliefs should prevent them from having to hook up to the system. Larry Wagler testified that he felt like he “had a gun to (his) head” to enter into the agreement.

The trial court denied their motions and also ordered Janet and Nathan Wagler to connect to the system. The Waglers do not belong to the Old Order Amish, according to court records.

The Waglers and West Boggs appealed; West Boggs sought trial attorney fees, which were denied, and appellate attorney fees.

In Terry and Laura Wagler, Larry and Jennifer Wagler, Norman Wagler, and Janet and Nathan Wagler v. West Boggs Sewer District Inc., 14A01-1109-PL-427, the Court of Appeals found many of the Waglers’ arguments weren’t cogent and that they didn’t prove that certain contract doctrines that they argued were applicable actually applied. The Waglers were aware of the requirements of the agreed judgments when they signed them, and the judgments were negotiated by their attorney, Judge Elaine Brown wrote.

Janet and Nathan Wagler argued that I.C. 8-1-2-125(d) allowed them the option to connect, but the judges found that statute only gives the utility the discretion as to whether to require someone to connect. Upon that request, the property owner is required to comply with the utility’s directive, as long as certain requirements are met, which were in this case.

Finally, the court affirmed the denial of attorney fees and the request for appellate attorney fees by West Boggs, finding the Waglers did not litigate or appeal in bad faith.

 

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