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Judge: punitive-damage cap unconstitutional

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A Marion County judge has refused to reduce damages in a priest sex-abuse case, saying the punitive damage caps put in place more than a decade ago are unconstitutional.

Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer issued a 20-page ruling Friday in John Doe v. Father Jonathan Lovill Stewart, No. 49D10-0402-CT-0443. The decision came in the case of a Greene County man, who claimed that as a 10-year-old boy the Catholic priest molested him between 1993 and 1997. A jury in April 2008 awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages, the latter that would have been reduced to $50,000.

State statute amended in 1995 says that punitive damages can't be more than three times the compensatory award or $50,000, whichever is greater.

The priest's attorney had asked the court to reduce the punitive damages to that $50,000 mark, but Doe argued that the cap is unconstitutional and that it doesn't apply to his case because the molestation acts started in 1993 before the statute was in effect.

Judge Dreyer determined the statute isn't retroactive, but more significantly that it violates the Indiana Constitution with respect to separation of powers and right to trial by jury - the legislative move to limit the jury's verdict goes against a person's constitutional right to trial by jury, he wrote.

"The Indiana Constitution protects each branch of government from interference with each other, and further guarantees Indiana citizens will have their civil cases decided by a jury," he wrote. "The Statute's two provisions ... interpose the will of the General Assembly to supersede otherwise valid verdicts. Accordingly, it contradicts the Indiana Constitution and should not interfere with Doe's punitive damage award."

While other states' constitutional language and setups may allow limits on punitive damages, the judge said Indiana's does not. This statute "materially burdens" the state's core values and is an inadequate substitute for what the framers envisioned in the state constitution.

"Our scrupulous guard against encroachment only allows one finding: the Statute impermissibly alienates Indiana's guarantee to trial by jury, and its nullification is rational and necessary," Judge Dreyer wrote.

More coverage on this case and legal issue will be in the March 18-31, 2009, issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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  1. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  2. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

  3. So this firebrand GOP Gov was set free by a "unanimous Supreme Court" , a court which is divided, even bitterly, on every culture war issue. WHAT A RESOUNDING SLAP in the Virginia Court's face! How bad must it have been. And all the journalists, lap dogs of the status quo they are, can do is howl that others cannot be railroaded like McDonald now??? Cannot reflect upon the ruining of Winston and Julia's life and love? (Oh I forget, the fiction at this Ministry of Truth is that courts can never err, and when they do, and do greatly, as here, why then it must be ignored, since it does not compute.)

  4. My daughter is a addict and my grandson was taken by DCS and while in hospital for overdose my daughter was told to sign papers from DCS giving up her parental rights of my grandson to the biological father's mom and step-dad. These people are not the best to care for him and I was never called or even given the chance to take him, but my daughter had given me guardianship but we never went to court to finalize the papers. Please I have lost my daughter and I dont want to lose my grandson as well. I hope and look forward to speaking with you God Bless and Thank You for all of your help

  5. To Bob- Goooooood, I'm glad you feel that way! He's alive and happy and thriving and out and I'm his woman and we live in West Palm Beach Florida, where his parents have a sprawling estate on an exclusive golf course......scum bag

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