Judges send teen’s emotional distress case back to trial court

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The Indianapolis teenager who saw his deceased mother’s remains being dragged out of their apartment on a mattress because she was extremely obese will have his claim for damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the coroner and city heard by the trial court.

In May 2009, then-13-year-old D.J. lived with his mother, Teresa Smith, and father, David Johnson Sr., in an apartment. Due to her weight, Smith was bedridden. D.J. called 911 after Johnson found Smith unresponsive. Police arrived and declared her dead. D.J. left the apartment at that time, but he later watched men drag Smith’s body out on the mattress, covered in a sheet, because the mortuary employees who were contracted by the coroner’s office mistakenly believed they didn’t have equipment that could transport her to the coroner’s office. A dirty carpet was tossed over her body on the back of the truck.

After contacting the coroner’s office and receiving instructions, the deputy coroner on the scene instructed Smith’s body be transported by a tow truck. Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena Ballew, after being contacted by the deputy coroner about how to handle the transportation, did not look into whether Digger Mortuary Services could transport the body. She later discovered Digger had the equipment to do so.

D.J. filed a complaint in 2010, seeking damages for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress over the incident. The coroner’s office and city of Indianapolis sought summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The judge ruled the governmental actors were entitled to the law enforcement immunity pursuant to the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

The Court of Appeals reversed in part, finding the coroner’s office’s conduct in following its own rules does not fall within the definition of enforcement for purpose of immunity under the Act. By transporting Smith’s body to the office, the deputy coroner on scene was not compelling enforcement of a law against another person, but just following the law to enable a more detailed investigation, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The judges found that summary judgment was appropriate for the city and coroner’s office on D.J.’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, but they found a genuine issue of fact regarding his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The question remains whether the coroner’s office’s conduct is so outrageous that it satisfies the reckless element of the tort.

“The Coroner’s Office conduct may have been reckless, disrespectful, and offensive but reasonable persons may differ on whether this conduct reaches the level of extreme and outrageous necessary to satisfy the tort,” she wrote.



  • Is civility & common sense dead in Marion County?
    One wonders why the cornoner not rent a dead animal truck to haul the decedent? The question of anumus seems to be a fact question in both theories. Who trained the police and/or coroner to disregard basic courtesy. If the courts offer no relief, then the issue should be submitted to the voters. Were funeral home standards met in this case?

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  1. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.