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COA split on whether judgment on pleadings was proper

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In a lawsuit against an attorney, law firm and the firm’s insurer, the Indiana Court of Appeals was divided in its ruling over whether the trial court correctly granted the insurer’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

Jason Tye Myers filed a lawsuit against Charles R. Deets III for fraud, and named his former partner Edward L. Kennedy, law firm Deets & Kennedy, and Great American Insurance Group as parties. Myers hired Deets – who was deceased when the suit was filed – for a criminal matter and Deets didn’t return a portion of a retainer fee after Myers fired him in 2005. Myers filed his lawsuit, which claimed fraud and constructive fraud, in 2011. He believed Kennedy, the law firm and the insurer were liable for the debt.

Great American moved for judgment on the pleadings; Kennedy and the law firm moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted both motions following a hearing.

The appellate court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Kennedy and the law firm, finding Myers didn’t prove there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Deets and Kennedy were partners at any time relevant to Myers’ complaint. As a result, he’s unable to show that either Kennedy or the firm is liable for Kennedy’s alleged fraudulent conduct.

Judge Edward Najam and Carr Darden reversed the grant of Great American’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Myers’ complaint is sufficient to seek relief by way of a declaratory judgment. While his complaint doesn’t expressly seek a declaratory judgment on the question of insurance coverage, the assertion of a specific theory in a complaint isn’t required under notice pleading, wrote Najam in Jason Tye Myers v. Charles R. Deets III, Deets & Kennedy, and Great American Insurance Group, No. 79A02-1108-CT-77. Myers stated facts that would support a declaratory judgment action.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented on this point, writing that Myers’ complaint contemplates a direct action against the law firm, not a declaratory judgment. At no point does Myers try to seek a declaration that the insurance policy is in effect; instead he seeks reimbursement of his retainer fee. She doesn’t see any circumstances which would grant Myers relief.

 

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