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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.

 

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  • 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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  3. 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.

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