ILNews

Judges disagree on punitive damages award

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a compensatory damage award today for a couple that was attacked, but the majority remanded the trial court's punitive damage award because it was excessive.

In James G. Clark and Larry A. Biddle III v. Donald and Janet Simbeck, No. 71A03-0801-CV-5, James Clark and Larry Biddle attacked Donald and Janet Simbeck after Donald stopped his car to question why the two had followed them closely in their car and driven recklessly around them.

Donald was hit in the head more than 30 times; Janet was struck once. Clark and Biddle pleaded guilty to two felony counts of battery resulting in serious injury and one misdemeanor count of battery.

A bench trial on the damages resulted in a compensatory award to Donald for $738,500; Janet received $26,000. The couple also received punitive damages of $60,000 each.

Clark and Biddle appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying their motion for a continuance. The Court of Appeals affirmed because Clark and Biddle delayed hiring replacement counsel after their original attorney withdrew his appearance until the Friday before the trial was set to start, wrote Senior Judge George B. Hoffman.

The trial court's suggestion Clark and Biddle consider waiving the liability issue and proceed with a bench trial on damages didn't prejudice the two, the appellate court ruled. Clark and Biddle weren't forced or intimidated into waiving their jury trial, nor does Indiana's Comparative Fault Act apply in this case because the two didn't make a claim Donald failed to mitigate his damages, wrote the judge.

The Court of Appeals found given the severe pain and injury caused upon Donald because of the attack, the compensatory award was not excessive. However, the appellate court reversed the punitive damages award for the couple because the trial court didn't consider Clark and Biddle's financial condition and ability in ordering them to pay $60,000 in punitive damages to each of the victims. The Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court to determine the amount of punitive damages, if any, reflective of Clark and Biddle's financial status.

Chief Judge John Baker dissented only regarding the punitive damages, finding Clark and Biddle's conduct on the night they attacked the Simbecks to be "so egregious, so malicious, and so brutal that the relatively nominal punitive damages award of $60,000 is warranted."

The appellate court also denied the Simbecks' request for damages and attorney fees because Clark and Biddle's appeal wasn't frivolous or in bad faith.

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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