ILNews

Court mulls non-competes, parental rights

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Two sets of arguments before the Indiana Supreme Court this morning gave justices a look at the scope of non-compete agreements, and how much parental privilege exists when it comes to discipline and corporal punishment.

First, the jurists posed questions in Central Indiana Podiatry P.C. v. Kenneth J. Krueger, Meridian Health Group P.C., 29S05-0706-CV-256, which the Court of Appeals ruled on in January. The appellate court overturned a lower court decision and held the podiatrist, Krueger, should have stopped working pending trial after his former company sued him in 2005 for violating a contract's restrictive covenants about working in about a dozen surrounding counties for two years after leaving his former practice.

Attorneys offered suggestions to the court that ranged from eliminating non-compete agreements entirely, using the territorial-focused blue pencil doctrine to narrow agreements, or to leave the system unchanged.

Justice Frank Sullivan asked the most questions of both sides, at one point describing this area of law "fascinating." He cited two recent cases from Supreme Courts in Illinois and Tennessee, which held respectively this year that clinics can enforce non-competes even if they interfere with patients' rights to choose medical providers, and that prohibited enforcement of non-competes.

Justice Sullivan seemed to lean more to deferring to the medical community on the issue, rather than paving new ground.

"Doctors know more than lawyers on this, maybe we should defer to the medical profession and [American Medical Association] rather than prescribe for them what their ethics should be," he said. "Just like we wouldn't like it if physicians told us lawyers what our ethics should be."

His reference to the AMA guidelines came from Krueger's attorney, Joseph Reiswerg, who mentioned that the association considers non-compete clauses unethical if they are excessive in scope.

Attorneys Jim Knauer and Steve Runyan argued that thousands of non-compete agreements that exist in Indiana could be affected by this ruling, while Reiswerg contended this comes down to the patient's ability to chose a doctor.

Following a short break between arguments, the half dozen people from the first arguments were joined by multiple rows of onlookers, including television news cameras, for the corporal punishment case arising from Marion County.

That case, Sophia Willis v. State of Indiana, 49S02-0707-CR-295, drew more pointed questions and philosophical discussion from justices as they considered what kind of guidance appellate courts could give to trial judges, child welfare workers, prosecutors, and parents on this issue.

The case stemmed from a single mother's use of a belt, or extension or electrical cord in spanking her 11-year-old son five to seven times. She was disciplining him for a February 2006 incident of stealing her clothes and taking them to school, which a teacher contacted her about. After sending the child away for the weekend, Willis was unable to resolve the situation and decided to use corporal punishment, attorneys said.

The boy reported the incident to school officials, who contacted child protective services. Willis was later charged with felony child battery and convicted during a bench trial by a commissioner. The conviction was reduced to a Class A misdemeanor, and Willis received a suspended sentence.

Since the case began, the deputy attorney general handling the appeal told the justices that Child in Need of Services proceedings began but were abandoned, and Willis has agreed to give up custody of her son to the boy's father.

"There are spankings, and there are spankings," Nicole Schuster told the justices. "There are facts that told the judge there was a line here. This crossed that line."

The number of whippings goes to demonstrate the unreasonableness of the mother's actions, Schuster contended.

But Indianapolis attorney Robert King Jr., representing Willis, said this was a punishment of last resort as she had previously sent her son to his room as an alternative disciplinary method - but without success. He encouraged the court to consider multiple testing prongs established in Mitchell v. State, 813 N.E.2d 427 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), which held that dropping a 4-year-old to the floor and kicking him was child battery. His suggestions included using age, intent, injuries sustained, prior attempts at discipline, and the punishment to crime relationship.

"This was a punishment of last resort and was enhanced just like we have in the criminal justice system," he said, referring to how courts and juries can enhance criminal sentences. "This is like pornography. We know it when we see it."

He noted the trial record reflects the sad nature of this case, as Willis told the trial court she was concerned about her son ending up in the criminal justice system because her "tool" to discipline was taken away.

"That's the battle you face as a parent these days," King said.

Justice Brent Dickson took a strong presence at arguments, interrupting Schuster within the first seconds of her statement and at several points noting the difficult issue of parental privilege in this case.

"Some of us are exploring this because of the possibility there may be an absence of guidance here in the law helping prosecutors decide which cases to pursue, and parents decide how to go about fulfilling their responsibilities to raise children to be law-abiding citizens," Justice Dickson said. "Can you help us in crafting an interpretation that could help guide the development here?"

Justice Sullivan mentioned that this was the first case he recalls in his nearly 14 years on the court where a parental-discipline case has been prosecuted. He noted that it might be better for the court to err on the side of caution, especially in light of the high volume of child abuse reports and cases in Indiana.

The arguments for both cases are available online at http://www.indianacourts.org/apps/webcasts.
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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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