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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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