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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. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  2. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  3. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  4. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  5. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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