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Justices: Punitive damages cap, allocation do not violate Indiana Constitution

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously reversed a Marion Superior judge’s 2011 decision in a sex-abuse case that held the statutes that cap punitive damages and dictate their allocation violate the Indiana Constitution.

A jury awarded John Doe $150,000 in punitive damages in his lawsuit against Rev. Jonathan Lovill Stewart for childhood sexual abuse. Stewart sought to have those damages reduced to the statutory cap of either three times the amount of the compensatory damages award or $50,000. Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer ruled in 2009 that I.C. 34-51-3-4 and -5 violate Article 3, Section 1 and Article 1, Section 20 of the state Constitution. In 2011, Dreyer issued an order declaring the cap and allocation of damages violated the separation of powers and right to jury.

In State of Indiana v. John Doe, 49S00-1201-CT-14, Justice Mark Massa provided historical background on punitive damages in Indiana and the statutes that provide the cap and allocation of damages. Under Indiana law, the victim will receive 25 percent of the damages with the remaining 75 percent going into the Violent Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

Massa pointed to Johnson v. St. Vincent Hosp. Inc., 273 Ind. 374, 381, 404 N.E.2d 585, 591 (1980), and Cheatham v. Pohle, 789 N.E.2d 467, 473 (Ind. 2003), as requiring the justices to uphold the cap and allocation provisions at issue here.

“Doe has offered no meaningful reason, and we can conceive none, why a punitive damages cap is so materially different from a compensatory damages cap as to render the former unconstitutional when the latter is not. Rather, we agree with the State that, as we have said before, the jury’s determination of the amount of punitive damages is not the sort of ‘finding of fact’ that implicates the right to jury trial under our state constitution,” Massa wrote.

In addition, the cap doesn’t offend the separation of powers. In civil litigation, “Just as the legislative branch has broad power to limit common law causes of action and remedies, including punitive damages, the judicial branch has sole authority to apply those limitations to particular cases,” Massa continued. “The cap is a public policy judgment that punitive damages in civil cases should not exceed a certain amount. As such, it is no different from a public policy judgment that the penalty for Class C felony child molesting, for example, is imprisonment for between two and eight years.”

The justices held that I.C. 34-51-3-4, -5 and -6 do not violate Article 1, Section 20 or Article 3, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution. They remanded to the trial court to grant Stewart’s motion to reduce the punitive damages to the statutory maximum and order that 75 percent of that award go to the Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

 

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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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