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COA: Second amended complaint allowed

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A former Steak 'n Shake employee appealed the trial court's dismissal of his claims of defamation and invasion of privacy against the company, which the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded today.

In William H. Hart v. Walter C. Webster and The Steak-n-Shake Co.,  No. 49A05-0802-CV-47, William Hart filed a complaint against Walter Webster and The Steak 'n Shake Co., claiming defamation and invasion of privacy against both parties as a result of Webster's investigation of allegations that Hart violated the company's gratuity policy and engaged in unethical relationships with vendors. Hart was cleared of any wrongdoing but claims Webster "maliciously communicated" to other employees, vendors, and people who did business with Steak 'n Shake that Hart had engaged in unethical conduct as vice president of purchasing.

He claimed as a result of the "embarrassment, humiliation, and severe emotional and physical distress" he suffered because of the investigation that he became disabled and couldn't work. Steak 'n Shake fired him as a result.

The defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss; Hart filed an amended complaint. The trial court dismissed Hart's amended complaint without prejudice and ordered him to file another complaint within 15 days. The trial court also denied his motion to reconsider the order of dismissal under Trial Rule 12(B)(6). Then, the court granted the defendant's joint motion to reconsider the ruling on a motion to dismiss under T.R. 12(B)(1) and dismissed Hart's complaint in its entirety, with prejudice. However, the court didn't specify whether it was referring to Hart's original complaint, his amended complaint, the second amended complaint he filed, or all three.

The trial court did properly dismiss Hart's original complaint and amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because his claims of suffering emotional and physical distress that made him unable to work fell under the Workers' Compensation Act, which must be ruled on by the Workers' Compensation Board, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

Although it is unclear if the trial court actually did dismiss the second amended complaint, the trial court erred in dismissing it because in it, Hart made no mention of any physical injury, disability, or impairment, so the Workers' Compensation Act wouldn't apply to the second amended complaint. In that one, Hart claimed damages to his personal and business reputation, humiliation, and emotional injuries.

Hart also wasn't precluded from filing his second amended complaint even though the trial court dismissed his previous ones with prejudice. The appellate court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on Hart's second amended complaint, beginning with an opportunity for Webster and Steak 'n Shake to file a response, wrote the judge.

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  1. Welcome to Hendricks County where local and state statutes (especially Indiana Class C misdemeanors) are given a higher consideration than Federal statues and active duty military call-ups.

  2. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  3. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  4. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  5. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

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