ILNews

Court: DNR case can proceed despite 11-year delay

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Court of Appeals has looked past a trial rule calling for diligent prosecution of claims, finding that a state Department of Natural Resources land ownership dispute can proceed despite an 11-year delay in prosecuting because it’s of great public importance and should be decided on the merits.

A 20-page decision comes Thursday in the case of Indiana DNR v. Ronald W. and Sandra J. Ritz, No. 24A01-1009-PL-442, a Franklin Circuit case involving a tract of land along the former Whitewater Canal that the state sought to use for a hiking and biking trail.

Both sides claimed ownership, with the DNR citing a title through a quit claim deed in 1946 from the Whitewater Canal Association of Indiana while the husband and wife had a title from 1971 that they’d obtained from previous property owner deeds. When the DNR put markers on the property in 1991 for the proposed development, Ronald and Sandra Ritz, who operated a canoe business on adjacent land, removed them and blocked the state employees from accessing the property. That led to a court complaint in 1991 by the DNR.

But the case docket doesn’t clearly show what happened with that case, except for entries that it was dismissed more than once according to Indiana Trial Rule 41(E) requiring diligent prosecution. But the court didn’t dismiss it and instead kept it alive. Records aren’t completely clear on whether the court held hearings on dismissal, as required by the trial rule, but the claim was ultimately dismissed in 1999 because of Rule 41(E).

In the background of all that happening, the state agency had abandoned the original plans to develop the Whitewater Canal Trail in 1996, but asked the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to continue pursuing that original action against the Ritzes. The state resurrected the Whitewater Canal Project in 2004, but the state agency wasn’t aware of the initial action against the Ritzes. It wasn’t until 2009 that the state began pursuing it again with a second action – after the 10-year statutory period when the AG’s office destroys records.

The Ritzes challenged the second action on the grounds that the 1991 complaint had been dismissed with prejudice and that the statute of limitations had since expired regarding the second action. The DNR filed a motion to reinstate the original action, contending that a hearing wasn't held and so dismissal was improper. The trial court reinstated the orignal action.

Now, both parties are arguing over whether the case should be decided on the merits or whether the DNR lost the right to prosecute the case because of its inaction according to Rule 41(E). The trial court dismissed both actions against the Ritzes, but the Court of Appeals - combining both actions on appeal -  has reversed that ruling and ordered it be kept alive.

The appellate panel opted to consider the merits of the case, finding that Ritzes suffered minimal prejudice because of the delay and that the significant impact of the land ownership question warranted review. The appellate court found no evidence that the DNR is “manipulating the judicial system” as the Ritzes allege, and the appellate judges pointed out that many trial courts routinely issue show cause orders simply when the docket shows no activity.

“Although it is unclear from the record what caused the Attorney General’s Office to fail to pursue the action in the 1990s, there is no evidence that the State was purposely and deliberately dilatory or unwilling to resolve the dispute,” the appellate panel wrote.

Judge Cale Bradford wrote a separate concurring opinion that emphasized this decision is not to be seen as providing the state immunity in following Trial Rule 41(E). Rather, the type of “unusual circumstances” in this case dictate that the state be allowed to neglect a case for as long as it did here without dismissal. The state is still required in other contexts, such as eminent domain, to avoid unnecessary delays and expedite matters.

“Nobody has greater respect for property rights than I do, and I believe that questions involving those rights should be fully litigated before they are granted or taken away,” he wrote. “Although I express no opinion on the strength of either side’s claim to the land at issue, I much prefer that questions affecting the interests of all Hoosiers be decided on the merits.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • BS
    This is nothing but government corruption and poppycock. Leave the Ritzes alone! 11 year delay, what kind of crap is the state try to pull off? If the state didn 't do anything for 11 years, they obviously didn't care. What is the purpose of a statute of limitations if the courts can just say, oh well the statute doesn't apply to this case. In other words it applies when the court says it does and doesn't apply when the court says it doesn't. Now the courts decide the law and the facts, but that is OK because, article 1 section 19 of the Indiana constitution states that they can. So be it!

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go All American Girl starred Margaret Cho The Miami Heat coach is nicknamed Spo I hate to paddle but don’t like to row Edward Rust is no longer CEO The Board said it was time for him to go The word souffler is French for blow I love the rain but dislike the snow Ten tosses for a nickel or a penny a throw State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO Bambi’s mom was a fawn who became a doe You can’t line up if you don’t get in a row My car isn’t running, “Give me a tow” He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go Plant a seed and water it to make it grow Phases of the tide are ebb and flow If you head isn’t hairy you don’t have a fro You can buff your bald head to make it glow State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO I like Mike Tyson more than Riddick Bowe A mug of coffee is a cup of joe Call me brother, don’t call me bro When I sing scat I sound like Al Jarreau State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A former Tigers pitcher was Lerrin LaGrow Ursula Andress was a Bond girl in Dr. No Brian Benben is married to Madeline Stowe Betsy Ross couldn’t knit but she sure could sew He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO Grand Funk toured with David Allan Coe I said to Shoeless Joe, “Say it ain’t so” Brandon Lee died during the filming of The Crow In 1992 I didn’t vote for Ross Perot State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A hare is fast and a tortoise is slow The overhead compartment is for luggage to stow Beware from above but look out below I’m gaining momentum, I’ve got big mo He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO I’ve travelled far but have miles to go My insurance company thinks I’m their ho I’m not their friend but I am their foe Robin Hood had arrows, a quiver and a bow State Farm has a lame duck CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go State Farm is sad and filled with woe

  2. The ADA acts as a tax upon all for the benefit of a few. And, most importantly, the many have no individual say in whether they pay the tax. Those with handicaps suffered in military service should get a pass, but those who are handicapped by accident or birth do NOT deserve that pass. The drivel about "equal access" is spurious because the handicapped HAVE equal access, they just can't effectively use it. That is their problem, not society's. The burden to remediate should be that of those who seek the benefit of some social, constructional, or dimensional change, NOT society generally. Everybody wants to socialize the costs and concentrate the benefits of government intrusion so that they benefit and largely avoid the costs. This simply maintains the constant push to the slop trough, and explains, in part, why the nation is 20 trillion dollars in the hole.

  3. Hey 2 psychs is never enough, since it is statistically unlikely that three will ever agree on anything! New study admits this pseudo science is about as scientifically valid as astrology ... done by via fortune cookie ....John Ioannidis, professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, said the study was impressive and that its results had been eagerly awaited by the scientific community. “Sadly, the picture it paints - a 64% failure rate even among papers published in the best journals in the field - is not very nice about the current status of psychological science in general, and for fields like social psychology it is just devastating,” he said. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/27/study-delivers-bleak-verdict-on-validity-of-psychology-experiment-results

  4. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  5. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

ADVERTISEMENT