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COA rules it doesn’t have jurisdiction over online comment appeal

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The Indiana Court of Appeals issued a 20-page order Dec. 7 outlining why Judges Edward Najam and Elaine Brown dismissed The Indianapolis Star’s latest appeal against having to release the name of an online commenter to the plaintiff in a lawsuit.

Jeffrey Miller, former CEO of Junior Achievement of Indiana, sued multiple parties for defamation and sought to add people who made anonymous comments on news organization websites that ran stories about Miller and Junior Achievement.

Marion Superior Judge S.K. Reid ordered several news outlets, including The Star, to release the identity of online commenters. The newspaper fought the order, and the Court of Appeals in February reversed. The case went back to Reid with a requirement to apply a modified version of the Dendrite test to determine whether Miller satisfied the requirements for obtaining the commenter’s identity.

The trial court again ordered the newspaper to disclose the commenter's identity in October, leading The Star to appeal again. After initially blocking Reid’s order in November, the appellate court held a hearing Nov. 20 on the matter, leading to two of the three judges deciding the court does not have jurisdiction to consider the trial court’s discovery order. The newspaper argued that the discovery order is severable as a final, appealable judgment, and that based on Article VII, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution, the discovery order must be “deemed final by law.”

“We conclude that The Star’s argument that the Discovery Order is severable as a final judgment is a reprise of the ‘distinct and separate branch doctrine,’ which our Supreme Court repudiated in Berry v. Hoffman, 643 N.E.2d 327, 329 (Ind. 1994), a doctrine which has been superseded by the requirement that the trial court ‘direct the entry of final judgment’ under Trial Rule 54(B),” the order says. “Thus the Discovery Order cannot be considered a final, appealable judgment under Appellate Rule 2(H)(1) because it did not dispose of all claims as to all parties and cannot be considered a final, appealable judgment under Appellate Rule 2(H)(2) because the trial court did not expressly determine that there is not just reason for the delay and direct the entry of the Discover Order as a final judgment as to fewer than all the claims or parties under Trial Rule 54(B).”

Judge Rudy Pyle dissented, writing, “The majority ably argues that Indiana Trial Rule 54(b) and the rule announced in Berry … permit shoehorning The Star into this litigation as a party. However, I submit that the shoe does not fit.”

He argued that due process interests should trump concerns about expediting litigation.

“It seems unreasonable to expect a non-party to seek appellate review using a Trial Rule designed for parties,” he wrote. “Preventing The Star from seeking appellate review of a new court order seems to change the rules of the road.”

The stay ordered by the court remains in effect until Friday, after which it will automatically expire.
 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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