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COA rules in favor of town on breach of contract claim

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed partial summary judgment to a city that collected a lower monthly bill rate than what was required for wastewater treatment from a town for 15 years and then sued to recover more than $500,000 it believed was owed to it. The city never informed the town the sewage treatment rate increased or that it was embroiled in a lawsuit over the matter.

The City of Lake Station and the Town of New Chicago entered into an intermunicipal agreement for the construction of an interceptor sewer system. Their wastewater was sent for treatment at the Gary Sanitary District. Lake Station billed New Chicago at the monthly rate set by GSD. Several years after this agreement was entered, the GSD tripled its rate. Lake Station protested, didn’t pay the increase, and never told New Chicago about the increase. New Chicago continued to pay the original rate until Lake Station filed a lawsuit to collect more than $500,000 following a judgment entered against Lake Station. The GSD sued Lake Station and won a judgment of more than $5.3 million against the city. Again, Lake Station didn’t inform New Chicago of the lawsuit.

The trial court granted partial summary judgment for Lake Station as to New Chicago’s liability and denied New Chicago’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court cited the Clean Water Act, which the two parties were subject to, as a reason for ruling in favor of Lake Station.

There is no private right of action under the CWA, ruled the Court of Appeals on interlocutory appeal in Town of New Chicago v. City of Lake Station, et al., No. 45A03-1001-PL-22. Lake Station cannot enforce the CWA because only the Environmental Protection Agency administrator can do so. As such, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Lake Station based solely on the CWA, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.  

In examining Lake Station’s claim for breach of contract, the judges held laches isn’t available to New Chicago as a defense for the breach of contract claim, and it examined New Chicago’s equitable estoppel defense. They found New Chicago met the three elements of equitable estoppel. The town lacked the knowledge or the means of knowledge regarding the rate increase and litigation because there’s no issue of material fact that Lake Station didn’t notify New Chicago of the rate increase, that it refused to pay the increased rate, and that it continued to pay the old rate for more than 15 years.

New Chicago showed its reliance upon the conduct of Lake Station, the second element of equitable estoppel. It also showed the third element - that Lake Station’s conduct caused New Chicago to prejudicially change its position. If New Chicago was aware of the rate increases earlier, it could have taken measures to protect itself and its sewage customers, wrote Judge Vaidik.

It’s also true that in general, government entities aren’t subject to estoppel, but in certain situations application is appropriate, as was the case in Equicor Dev., Inc. v. Westfield-Washington Twp. Plan Commission, 758 N.E.2d 34, 39 (Ind. 2001).  

“Lake Station had a duty to bill New Chicago at the GSD rate (and not at a rate which it thought it should pay). Because Lake Station remained silent from 1989 to 2005, New Chicago reasonably believed that it was paying its proportionate share of the treatment charges at the proper GSD rate and the interceptor costs,” she wrote. “Like the Plan Commission in Equicor, Lake Station had ample opportunity (fifteen years in fact) to notify New Chicago of the increased rate. Yet Lake Station remained silent. Application of estoppel against Lake Station, a government entity, is appropriate in this case. Lake Station is thus estopped from collecting New Chicago’s proportionate share of the treatment charges and interceptor costs from 1990 to 2004.”

The judges reversed and remanded for summary judgment to be entered in favor of New Chicago on its equitable estoppel defense.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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