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Man accused of violating city ordinances entitled to jury trial

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Because the underlying substantive claims brought against an Indianapolis man regarding his treatment of his dog are quasi-criminal, he is entitled to a jury trial under the Indiana Constitution, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

The city of Indianapolis filed a civil complaint against Robert Gates alleging he violated three ordinances for allowing his dog to defecate on a public street without cleaning it up, hitting his dog multiple times, and for not having permanent identification or proof of rabies vaccination for the dog. Gates filed a demand for a jury trial, which the trial court denied.

In Robert M. Gates v. City of Indianapolis, 49A04-1210-OV-503, the Court of Appeals relied on Cunningham v. State, 835 N.E.2d 1075, 1076 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), and Midwest Security Life Insurance Co. v. Stroup, 730 N.E.2d 163, 169-70 (Ind. 2000), to find that Gates is entitled to a jury trial under Article I, Section 20 of the state Constitution.

The COA had to determine whether the cause of action at issue is equitable or legal in nature, as those terms were used in 1852 under Indiana Trial Rule 38(A), as explained by Justice Theodore Boehm in Midwest, since the ordinances at issue did not exist prior to 1852.  

The Supreme Court has held that the violation of city ordinances is of a quasi-criminal nature. Judge Edward Najam wrote that the violations at issue here are also quasi-criminal because they are enforced by the city’s Department of Public Safety, complaints are initiated and litigated by a prosecuting attorney on behalf of the city, and violators are fined by the government. The judges agreed with Gates that the mandatory fines imposed in this case are like claims for money damages, which were “exclusively legal actions in 1852.”

The COA ordered the trial court to grant Gates’ jury trial request.

 

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