Small-claims change of judge time limit further divides appellate courts

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How long a small-claims court litigant has to request a change of judge is a question that divided a Court of Appeals panel Monday, where a majority found that an earlier appellate panel majority got it wrong. The dissenting judge authored the prior opinion, and said it shouldn’t be disturbed even if it may have been wrongly decided.

A panel of the Court of Appeals reversed a Lake County case arising from a property damage accident in which damages awarded after a bench trial were less than $3,000. But the judge in the case erroneously ruled a plaintiff’s motion for change of judge untimely. The panel remanded Amy Palmer v. Margaret Sales and Unique Insurance Company, 45A03-1302-SC-31, ordered a change of judge and implementation of procedures for choosing a new judge, and ordered the case moved to the plenary docket.

Judge Terry Crone wrote the majority opinion joined by Judge Patricia Riley that found the law improperly applied and perhaps improperly formulated.

“We agree that the small claims court erred by finding that (Palmer’s) request for a change of judge was untimely. The small claims court had relied on McClure v. Cooper, 893 N.E.2d 337 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). We disagree with the majority opinion in McClure, which gives the defendant only three days after receiving the notice of claim to request a change of judge. In any event, McClure is distinguishable because the notice of claim sent to Palmer did not properly notify her of the trial date.”

The majority sided with Judge James Kirsch’s dissent in McClure, in which he found that Trial Rule 76(C)(5) should govern the amount of time a litigant has to ask for a change in judge.

Judge Mark Bailey concurred in part and dissented in part, finding that Palmer properly moved for a jury trial but was denied, so the matter should be moved to the plenary docket as the majority did. But Bailey wrote that the panel shouldn’t have reached the change of judge question, and he noted that since Palmer acknowledged liability, the only question for the court should be damages.

“In recognition of our judicial role and as a matter of policy, it seems wise to me not to reach matters beyond those necessary for resolution of a case. Because we can resolve this appeal without disturbing existing precedent, based upon the trial court’s erroneous denial of a jury trial, we ought not to address McClure,” Bailey wrote, noting the rule of stare decisis stands for the proposition of not disturbing findings of the same court absent urgent reasons or clear error.

“(U)pon reflection, I agree that McClure may have been wrongly decided, though I reach that conclusion on a different basis from the majority. Simply put, even though the opinion I authored in McClure narrowly construed the time limits in Trial Rules 76(B) and (C) (providing for change of judge as a matter of right and without cause), on reflection I do not think the provisions of those rules properly apply in the small claims dockets of our state. Therefore, I think McClure likely reached the wrong conclusion,” Bailey wrote.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues