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COA reverses finding IDEM breached agreement

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the finding that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management breached a settlement agreement because the trial court didn't have subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether it committed a breach.

IDEM and NJK Farms entered into a settlement agreement in 2005 after a petition for judicial review was remanded to Marion Superior Court. The two parties were in a dispute about the denial of a permit application to operate a landfill in Fountain County. The agreement laid out the terms required for IDEM to grant the permit. While a permit application was pending before IDEM in 2008 and scheduled for a public comment period, the Indiana legislature passed a law concerning permits for solid waste landfills in counties without comprehensive zoning regulations.

Fountain County at that time didn't have a zoning ordinance, but a month later enacted regulations that included landfills. IDEM asked NJK to submit a new application because of the statute and the new Fountain County ordinances. NJK instead filed a motion with the trial court alleging IDEM breached the settlement agreement. IDEM then denied the permit and NJK filed a petition for review with the Office of Environmental Adjudication that it find the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction. An administrative law judge stayed the petition pending ruling of the trial court. The trial court found it had exclusive jurisdiction and that IDEM breached the settlement.


On interlocutory appeal in Ind. Dept. of Environmental Management v. NJK Farms, Inc., No. 49A02-0902-CV-123, the Court of Appeals concluded Marion Superior Court didn't have jurisdiction over the matter, relying on Ind. Dept. of Environmental Management v. Raybestos Products Co., 897 N.E.2d 469 (Ind. 2008). The Indiana Supreme Court held that the exclusive means for review of IDEM's actions was by petition for review by the OEA and that money damages aren't authorized under the state Administrative Orders and Procedures Act.

In the instant case, IDEM is an agency subject to the AOPA, and IDEM's entry into the settlement agreement and actions following the agreement regarding NJK's permit application were agency actions, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. NJK argued that Raybestos is inapplicable and the settlement agreement was a contract and not an agency action because it arose out of a judicial proceeding instead of an administrative one. NJK argued if an agreement was entered to resolve issues during the administrative process, the AOPA would apply and damages couldn't be awarded. If an agreement was entered after a petition for judicial review, then AOPA wouldn't apply and the agency could be liable for damages.

That interpretation would lead to illogical results contrary to the purpose of the AOPA, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. "Clearly, it is better for such issues to be presented in the typical administrative review process prior to consideration by the trial court," he wrote. "The administrative review process allows IDEM to correct its own mistakes and allows those with the requisite expertise a first look at the issues." The judicial review of the OEA's determination in 2000 that NJK was not a real party in interest didn't confer jurisdiction on the Marion Superior Court to directly review all further actions of IDEM regarding NJK's permit application, wrote the judge. Money damages to NJK aren't authorized under the AOPA. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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