ILNews

Court vacates summary judgment

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated an Indiana District Court's grant of summary judgment and remanded the case so the court could determine what right a company has to receive compensation for its vandalized railroad cars.

In CSX Transportation Inc. v. Appalachian Railcar Services Inc., No. 06-3430, CSX brought suit in the Southern District to recover payment it made to Appalachian Railcar Services (ARS) for damaged railcars. CSX believed the 13 railcars derailed on CSX-owned track, making them liable for any damages; CSX paid ARS to replace 12 of the cars and repair one. Later, CSX reviewed the payments it made to ARS and determined the derailment didn't occur on track they owned. The owner of the track still has not been determined.

CSX filed a lawsuit to recover the money it paid to ARS, contending the payments constituted unjust enrichment because they were made on the basis of a mistake of fact. The District Court granted ARS' motion for summary judgment based on the voluntary-payment doctrine.

In Indiana, the voluntary-payment doctrine states that "money voluntarily paid in the face of a recognized uncertainty as to the existence or extent of the payor's obligation to the recipient may not be recovered, on the ground of 'mistake,' merely because the payment is subsequently revealed to have exceeded the true amount of the underlying obligation."

The District Court held that the voluntary-payment doctrine barred recovery by CSX because it paid ARS in the face of a recognized uncertainty, the amount of liability owed. The court reasoned a certainty of liability would have allowed CSX to simply send ARS a check for the amount of damages, rather than asking ARS about the value of the damaged cars.

Judge Ilana Rovner wrote that because neither CSX nor ARS regarded CSX's responsibility for the derailment as uncertain, whether the payment embodied the possibility that CSX did not own the track is a fact question that precludes summary judgment on the basis of the voluntary-payment doctrine. The District Court focused on the doctrine and did not consider other arguments raised by either party. The 7th Circuit cannot determine if ARS was actually entitled to the payment by CSX or another party, nor can it determine whether ARS's reasonable reliance on CSX caused ARS to forego the opportunity to investigate the accident or discover for itself if it was entitled to payment.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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