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NIPSCO loses appeal of reinstatement of driving privileges

February 17, 2014

The Northern Indiana Public Service Company was unable to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that a lower court erred when it reinstated the driving privileges of two people who had been involved in car accidents that damaged NIPSCO’s property.

Edward Sloan and Dashawn Cole had their driving privileges suspended because of failure to satisfy judgments entered in favor of NIPSCO due to the damage of the company’s property. Both men sought hearings on the matter, at which NIPSCO objected to reinstatement. The trial court, in separate hearings, ordered the men to comply with all of the provisions of I.C. 9-25-6-6, including providing proof of financial responsibility for the next three years to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the trial court, and NIPSCO; and to pay $50 a month until the judgment was paid in full.

NIPSCO appealed, and the cases were consolidated on its motion in Northen Indiana Public Service Company v. Edward A. Sloan, Dashawn L. Cole, 45A03-1307-SC-254.

One of NIPSCO’s arguments was that because driving privileges may not be suspended for more than seven years under I.C. 9-25-6-4, the installment payments must ensure that the judgment is paid off by that seven-year limit. But I.C. 9-25-6-6 is clear and unambiguous and its plain language does not include such a time limit on installment payments, Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

NIPSCO asserted that Cole and Sloan were required to prove to the trial court at the reinstatement hearing that they would maintain financial responsibility for at least three years. NIPSCO, however, cited no legal authority that proof of financial responsibility was to be submitted to the trial court at the hearing, Barnes pointed out.

The company also claimed that the men failed to file proposed plans at least five days prior to the hearing, as required under I.C. 9-35-6-6(b). The men each filed letters with the trial court indicating their desire to set up a payment plan, and these letters were forwarded to NIPSCO’s attorney at least five days before the hearing. The statute does not require a detailed installment plan be submitted by the judgment debtor prior to the hearing, the COA held.

The appellate judges ruled that the trial court property rejected NIPSCO’s equity arguments. Because it is more likely to get paid if Cole’s and Sloan’s driving privileges are reinstated, substantial justice is accomplished by following the law, Barnes wrote.

The judges also found that NIPSCO waived its argument regarding the trial court’s contacting the BMV by failing to object to that procedure during the hearing.  


 

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