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Justices uphold order criminal defendant answer civil complaint

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The Indiana Supreme Court Wednesday found a Lake Superior judge did not abuse her discretion in ordering a man criminally charged for the hit-and-run death of a woman to respond to her estate’s wrongful death complaint filed against him.

Britney Meux was jogging with co-workers when she was hit by a car on March 6, 2012. The driver, allegedly Jason R. Cozmanoff, fled the scene. Meux died from her injuries and Cozmanoff was charged with one count of Class C felony reckless homicide and other charges. A few weeks later, Meux’s estate sued him for wrongful death. The discovery process began April 27 in the civil suit.

Coxmanoff moved to stay the entire civil proceeding until his criminal case concluded. He was concerned that if he asserted the Fifth Amendment it would be used against him before the civil jury; if he were to respond to discovery, that information could be used against him during his criminal trial.

The estate countered that the criminal proceeding could drag on beyond the two-year statute of limitations for identifying other potential tortfeasors who must be joined to the suit.

Lake Superior Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider granted a limited stay of discovery regarding only Cozmanoff and ordered him to answer the complaint within 30 days.

In Joseph D. Hardiman and Jaketa L. Patterson, as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Britney R. Meux, Deceased v. Jason R. Cozmanoff, 45S03-1309-CT-619, the justices affirmed Schneider’s decision, noting that their ruling doesn’t mean the trial court was constitutionally required to impose the stay, but that it did not abuse its discretion by doing so.

They found the civil court was appropriately protecting its own calendar and judicial resources by ordering the case to continue. And, Justice Mark Massa pointed out that the estate would have at least 45 days to join any nonparty as a defendant because Indiana law requires Cozmanoff plead any nonparty defense at least 45 days before the statute of limitations expires.

“Non-parties do have an interest in being promptly discovered and joined in the action, but that interest can still be served under this limited stay. Although the Estate may not be able to learn the identity of those nonparties by deposing Cozmanoff, it is still free to do so by conducting other discovery, or by investigating outside the context of formal discovery. Thus, the stay does not entirely prevent the Estate from pursuing its case,” Massa wrote.

The fact that both cases concern identical issues weighs strongly in favor of this limited stay, as the cases turn on the same three issues: whether Cozmanoff hit Meux with his car, whether he was reckless when he did so, and whether his action caused her death.

The justices also found Kavadias Schneider’s decision to stay discovery against Cozmanoff but still require him to file an answer is not unprecedented.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.  

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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