ILNews

COA sides with Lauth in casino suit

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Indianapolis commercial developer Lauth didn't breach a joint venture contract or any of its duties with other parties by partnering with the Bloomington-based Cook Group on an Orange County riverboat casino project, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In a unanimous holding in Lauth Indiana Resort & Casino LLC v. Lost River Development LLC, et al., 29A02-0710-CV-839, the court ruled on an issue of first impression about when a joint venture terminates in situations where the agreements contain no specific termination date, creating a bright-line rule as it reversed a ruling from Hamilton Superior Judge Steven Nation that determined there was an issue of fact about whether Lauth had violated the agreement and that a jury should decide that issue.

This case stems from the construction of an Orange County riverboat casino project starting in 2004. Three companies submitted original proposals - Trump Indiana Casino Management, Orange County Development affiliated with Larry Bird, and Lost River that was formed by Merit Gaming Group. After Lost River submitted its proposal, Lauth contacted the developer and they formalized an agreement that provided Lauth would have 50 percent ownership to create a joint venture.

The Indiana Gaming Commission debated between the Trump Indiana and the Lost River/Lauth proposal, ultimately deciding on Trump Indiana. Lauth started contacting other gaming companies and developers to see if anyone would partner with them in case Trump didn't come through; Lauth eventually partnered with the Cook Group to submit another proposal under the name Blue Sky Casino LLC. They won the bid, and the casino opened in Nov. 1, 2006.

As the project was ongoing, Lost River and Merit filed a complaint in late 2005 against Lauth and the Cook Group and alleged they'd entered into an enforceable contract for a joint venture and that, by teaming with Cook Group to form Blue Sky, the Indianapolis developer breached the contract.

Lauth filed a motion for summary judgment in June 2006 claiming that the agreement formed a joint venture at most and that it was terminated when the Gaming Commission chose Trump over Lost River's proposal. At the trial level, Judge Nation dismissed that motion, finding that it didn't contemplate a second bid proposal and that federal caselaw says that a formed joint venture agreement generally "remains in force until its purpose is accomplished or that purpose becomes impracticable."

The Court of Appeals disagreed, and its ruling gives guidance as to when a joint venture agreement ends if nothing is written or specifically detailed about how it ends.

"In conclusion, we hold that if a joint venture is formed for the purpose of submitting a proposal or similar bid, and the joint venture agreement is silent as to when or under what circumstances that venture will end, then the joint venture ends when the proposal or bid is rejected," the court wrote.

In this case, the Lost River joint venture ended as a matter of law when the IGC chose Trump Indiana. As a result, Lauth didn't breach the agreement and the trial judge erred in denying Lauth's motion for summary judgment, the appellate court said.

The case is remanded.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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