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Judge grants limited class certification in stage collapse lawsuit

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While she said she doubts the plaintiffs can win their case, U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker is allowing limited class certification in a lawsuit challenging the state’s $5 million damage liability cap. Plaintiffs incurred injuries in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse Aug. 13.

In a 28-page ruling, the federal judge in the Southern District of Indiana granted class certification for the limited purpose of determining whether the $5 million cap violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

However, Barker wrote that the court doesn’t believe the plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, given the well-established caselaw on damages caps for tort claims against governmental entities. She denied a preliminary injunction request that sought to both stop the state from settling any tort claims relating to the stage collapse and prevent the state from disbursing any of the $5 million in public funds to the stage collapse victims.

 “Given the severity of the Plaintiffs’ and other similarly situated claimants’ reported injuries, we believe the public interest would not be served by restricting Defendants’ scope of action as Plaintiffs have requested. When compared with the potential deprivation of much-needed money that the claimants are likely to suffer if a preliminary injunction is granted, the balance of hardships tips in Defendants’ favor,” she wrote.

The judge also denied an emergency motion for discovery.

Her ruling comes almost a month after an evidentiary hearing in the case, which Valparaiso attorney Kenneth Allen filed in September on behalf of six plaintiffs who were injured or killed in the stage collapse at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis. This is one of many lawsuits that has been filed in state and federal courts in the three months since the deadly accident.

Barker found that plaintiffs met the class certification numerosity requirement because they could institute individual claims, and joinder of all the parties would be impractical. But the judge determined the plaintiffs fell short of meeting the class certification criteria for commonality in regard to their share of the state’s public fund and because plaintiffs haven’t shown the defendants did or intended to do anything that might connect everyone. Barker found that the named plaintiffs’ claims aren’t all substantially similar for the bulk of the lawsuit, but that they do share a typical focus for the limited purpose of challenging the Indiana cap’s constitutionality.

The judge wasn’t persuaded to involve Rule 23(b) on class certification based on the obvious possibility that some claimants might ultimately be more successful than others, but the plaintiffs do meet the requirements of Rule 23(a) on that limited constitutional question.

“Lastly, although we acknowledge the real merits of Defendants’ Eleventh Amendment and abstention arguments against class certification, our limited certification does not run afoul of these doctrines,” Barker wrote.
 

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  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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