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Utica school preservationists win reversal, get day in court

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Clark County residents who sued township officials over how a former school in the Ohio River community of Utica was being used will get to plead their case, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday, reversing a trial court order for the township.

The Court of Appeals said the case also points to a need for the General Assembly to address the disposition of old school buildings.

Plaintiffs sued officials of Utica Township because they said the former school wasn’t being used for recreation or park purposes as required by statute. The township had leased the building to a nonprofit that plaintiffs argued intended to use the school as “temporary housing or a halfway house for criminal offenders.”

Special Judge Glenn G. Hancock granted summary judgment for the township defendants in Clark Circuit Court, finding that plaintiffs lacked standing. The Court of Appeals panel  found otherwise.

“(W)e conclude that the Citizens, and others residents of the township, have an interest in the proper administration of the School for park and recreation purposes. It is apparent that a public right, the enjoyment of the School for park and recreation purposes, is at issue because the statutory language in Indiana Code section 20-23-6-9(d) states that the school property is to be offered to the township as a gift for park and recreation purposes and that the deed shall state that the township is required to use the property for park and recreation purposes,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the panel.

“We, therefore, conclude that the Citizens have standing to proceed with their claim under the public standing doctrine.” The matter was remanded for proceedings on the claim.

Judge Mark Bailey concurred as did Judge Ezra Friedlander, who wrote separately to stress the majority view that statutes offer no guidance for what to do with former schools that no longer can feasibly be used for park or recreational purposes.

“This case illustrates that the statutes enacted by our legislature fail to address certain situations and circumstances that might arise when disposing of school buildings. Although it is not relevant to our holding in the present case, I agree with my colleagues that these gaps merit the General Assembly’s attention,” Friedlander wrote. “Subject to these comments, I fully concur in the lead opinion.”

The case is Old Utica School Preservation, Inc., Kenneth Morrison, Scott Sandefur, and Pamela Sandefur v. Utica Township, John Durbin, Utica Township Trustee, Jacobs Well, Inc., Kevin Williar, John Posey, et al., 10A05-1308-PL-388.





 

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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