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COA: Suit against sewer district isn’t a public lawsuit

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The Spencer Circuit Court erred in finding a lawsuit filed by property owners challenging the requirement they connect to a new sewer system is a public lawsuit and the property owners must pay $9 million in bond to proceed with the suit, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

In Steven Buse, et al. v. Trustees of the Luce Township Regional Sewer District, No. 74A05-1009-PL-590, Steven Buse and other property owners brought an interlocutory appeal of the trial court’s holding that four counts of the owners’ complaint constitute a public lawsuit against Luce Township Regional Sewer District under Indiana Code 34-6-2-124. The property owners filed the suit, claiming the sewer district was installing a new sewer near their properties and required the property owners to tie into the line at their own expense. The property owners all had functioning septic tank soil absorption systems. The property owners also alleged that they would have to pay more than the homeowners who did grant the sewer system easements over their property.

The trial court relied on I.C. 34-6-2-124 to find the lawsuit was a public lawsuit and ordered the property owners post a $9 million in bond within 10 days of the order.

But the trial court didn’t determine whether the property owners were pursuing the lawsuit as citizens or as taxpayers. This is an important distinction that needs to be made by the court, as spelled out by the Indiana Supreme Court in Dible v. City of Lafayette, 713 N.E.2d 269 (Ind. 1999). The justices held that an action by an individual landowner seeking to protect his or her private interest in property doesn’t constitute the basis for a public lawsuit.

The plain language of the complaint shows that the property owners didn’t bring the suit in their capacity as taxpayers, wrote Judge Edward Najam, so the trial court’s findings don’t support its conclusions that the complaint is a public lawsuit.

“We also hold that the trial court’s order that the Property Owners’ claims are within the ambit of the public lawsuit statute misapplies the statute,” he wrote. “… the trial court focused only on the language of the statute. But, as summarized in Dible, the controlling factor is whether the Property Owners seek to protect public or private interests.”

The appellate judges also rejected the sewer district’s claim that the private interests of the property owners are so commingled with the public interests that the public lawsuit aspect of the counts should trump the private interests. The convergence of private interests with public interests isn’t enough in itself to convert an action that doesn’t otherwise qualify into a public lawsuit, wrote Judge Najam.

The COA reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the claims, noting that nothing in the opinion shall be taken as comment on the merit of those claims.

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  1. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  2. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  3. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

  4. If it were your child that died maybe you'd be more understanding. Most of us don't have graves to visit. My son was killed on a state road and I will be putting up a memorial where he died. It gives us a sense of peace to be at the location he took his last breath. Some people should be more understanding of that.

  5. Can we please take notice of the connection between the declining state of families across the United States and the RISE OF CPS INVOLVEMENT??? They call themselves "advocates" for "children's rights", however, statistics show those children whom are taken from, even NEGLIGENT homes are LESS likely to become successful, independent adults!!! Not to mention the undeniable lack of respect and lack of responsibility of the children being raised today vs the way we were raised 20 years ago, when families still existed. I was born in 1981 and I didn't even ever hear the term "CPS", in fact, I didn't even know they existed until about ten years ago... Now our children have disagreements between friends and they actually THREATEN EACH OTHER WITH, "I'll call CPS" or "I'll have [my parent] (usually singular) call CPS"!!!! And the truth is, no parent is perfect and we all have flaws and make mistakes, but it is RIGHTFULLY OURS - BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS GREAT NATION - to be imperfect. Let's take a good look at what kind of parenting those that are stealing our children are doing, what kind of adults are they producing? WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPED FROM THEIR FAMILY AND THAT CHILD'S SUCCESS - or otherwise - AS AN ADULT.....

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