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Justices reconcile conflicting trial rules

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In reversing an order granting a company’s motion to vacate partial summary judgment in an environmental cleanup lawsuit, the Indiana Supreme Court tackled the apparently conflicting Indiana Trial Rules 54(B) and 56(C).

10th and the Bypass LLC sued James T. Mitchell and his corporation and other defendants, asserting a claim for an environmental legal action based on contamination from the operation of a dry cleaning business in Bloomington on land owned by the LLC. Mitchell was granted partial summary judgment on his individual capacity, claiming he was never involved in any dumping of chemical waste.

About a year later, a former Mitchell employee provided the landowner with a statement that there was a spill in the 1980s at the facility allegedly caused by Mitchell. The LLC relied on Trial Rule 54(B) in its request that the trial court vacate the partial summary judgment in favor of Mitchell. Mitchell sited Trial Rule 56, which says newly discovered evidence must be properly designated and timely submitted. The trial court granted the LLC’s motion to vacate.

“This case requires us to explore the interplay between Trial Rule 54(B) – Judgment upon multiple claims or involving multiple parties and Trial Rule 56 – Summary judgment, when new evidence is submitted to the trial court following entry of partial summary judgment,” Justice Robert Rucker wrote. “ … [H]ow can the dictates of Rule 54(B) ‘subject to revision at any time’ be reconciled with the apparently conflicting ‘thirty (30) day[]’ time limit imposed by Rule 56(C)? In order to harmonize Trial Rule 54(B) and Trial Rule 56(C) we hold that although a trial court may indeed make material modifications to a non-final summary judgment order, it must do so based on the timely submitted materials already before the court when the order was initially entered.”

“Here the trial court revised its previous order granting partial summary judgment in Mitchell’s favor. Under other circumstances this would not be problematic. However, by understandably but mistakenly misinterpreting the law, the trial court abused its discretion in relying on evidence not properly before the court at the time the previous order was entered,” he continued.

The trial court also ruled that the LLC is not entitled to relief under Trial Rule 60(B) as the order granting partial summary judgment to Mitchell was not a final judgment. But a 2008 amendment deleted the word “final” such that the express language of the rule no longer limits relief only from a “final” judgment, the justices ruled.

“In light of the 2008 amendment, LLC is not precluded from seeking Trial Rule 60(B) relief from the trial court’s January 2010 order on grounds that the order was not a final judgment,” Rucker wrote.

The case, James T. Mitchell v. 10th and The Bypass, LLC and Elway, Inc., 53S01-1303-PL-222, is remanded for further proceedings.

 

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