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Judges: State-law claims can proceed

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has allowed a woman’s state claim against a sheriff following the suicide of her son in jail to go forward even though she previously had accepted an offer of judgment in District Court on a federal claim.

Eighteen-year-old Gregory Zick killed himself while in custody at the St. Joseph County jail. His mother, Cathy Minix, brought a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 claim on behalf of Zick’s estate in federal court against Sheriff Frank Canarecci Jr., and other defendants, including medical providers Memorial Health Care and Madison Center Inc. She also asserted several state-law claims, including medical malpractice and claims under the Child Wrongful Death Statute.

At issue in Cathy Minix, et al. v. Sheriff Frank Canarecci, Jr., et al., No. 71A04-1009-CT-591, is the Section 1983 deliberate indifference claim against Canarecci in his official capacity. He made an offer of judgment to Minix for $75,000, which Minix accepted. The offer didn’t say whether it referred to that federal claim, a state claim, or both. Having resolved the other federal claims on summary judgment, the District Court dismissed all of the state-law claims without prejudice.

Minix then filed complaints in state court against the medical providers alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death under the CWDS and a wrongful death claim against Canarecci in his official capacity. The trial court entered summary judgment for the sheriff, finding principles of res judicata barred Minix’s claims. The judge denied summary judgment for the medical providers.

On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed regarding judgment in favor of the sheriff. Because the federal judge’s judgment plainly indicated that all the state-law claims would be dismissed without prejudice, Minix’s state-law CWDS claim against the sheriff in his official capacity isn’t barred by res judicata. The appellate judges came to this conclusion applying the ordinary preclusion principles to the consent judgment and the principles of contractual interpretation.

Also, a recovery by Minix under the state-law claims would not amount to double recovery because the federal claim was asserted by Minix on behalf of Zick’s estate. Her state-law claims are asserted as Zick’s mother, wrote Judge Paul Mathias.

The judges also rejected the medical providers’ argument that because of the result reached in federal court, Minix has already been fully compensated for the injuries alleged against them in state court, so she is barred from seeking additional recovery. Just as with the sheriff, Minix brought the CWDS claim against the medical providers personally, but the medical malpractice claim was brought by her in her capacity of personal representative of Zick’s estate.

The judges also noted that although the federal court rendered judgment against the sheriff for the same injuries asserted against the medical providers in the medical malpractice claim, that judgment didn’t include a determination of the entirety of recoverable damages suffered by Zick. They remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

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