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SCOTUS takes Indianapolis sewer payment case

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The Supreme Court of the United States has granted certiorari in a case that questions whether the city of Indianapolis violated the federal Constitution in how it handled refunds for residents who paid assessments on local sewer projects.

In an order list released Monday, the SCOTUS took Christine Armour, et al. v. City of Indianapolis, et al., No. 11-161, which led to a divided Indiana Supreme Court decision in May.

The case involves 45 homeowners in an Indianapolis subdivision who sued the city when they didn’t receive refunds of sewer assessments they paid. The assessments were part of a sanitary sewer project funded under the Barrett Law, Indiana Code 36-9-39, and the homeowners were able to either pay the full amount or make partial payments each month. The city later switched its funding procedures for the projects and those who’d been paying monthly installments were no longer responsible for anything that had been unpaid. Homeowners who paid the nearly $10,000 assessments in one lump sum prior to Nov. 1, 2005, were denied any refund.

In a 3-2 decision by the Indiana Supreme Court, the majority reversed the trial court judgment against Indianapolis – which held the city violated the Equal Protection Clause – and found no constitutional violation under the 14th Amendment had occurred. Justice Frank Sullivan wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Steven David, while Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson dissented.

The majority found that the city’s rationale was that low- and middle-class families were more likely to have been paying gradually and those who paid in full up front were likely higher income, meaning the rationale was reasonable and coincided with the government’s interest in moving away from the Barrett Law system because of the financial burdens it created. Justices Rucker and Dickson disagreed, finding the city’s “rational basis” wasn’t sufficient and was used as more a blanket reason without any practical justification of the rationale actually doing what it claimed to do.

The SCOTUS hasn't specifically addressed whether a municipality contravenes the Equal Protection Clause when it forgives an outstanding assessment owed by some property owners while, at the same time, it refuses to refund an equivalent amount to similarly situated property owners who have already paid the same assessment in full.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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