ILNews

Water company not a political subdivision

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The company that provides the water utility to the City of Indianapolis is not a political subdivision of the state, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today.

Veolia Water Indianapolis LLC claimed it was entitled to summary judgment in Michael Harrison’s claim against it because it is a political subdivision of the state. Under a management agreement, Indianapolis pays Veolia nearly $40 million a year, plus more money if the company meets certain incentives. Harrison, while working as a Veolia subcontractor, received a severe electrical shock from an uninsulated overhead electrical line. He sued Veolia asserting negligence and didn’t provide any other notice to Veolia as required under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

Because it believed it is a political subdivision, and thus subject to the 180-day notice required under the act, Veolia moved for and was granted summary judgment.

Veolia doesn’t fall under the express statutory definition of a political subdivision but claimed it is sufficiently akin to a governmental entity or political subdivision of the state that is entitled to ITCA’s procedural protections.

After reviewing the ITCA and the history of sovereign immunity in Indiana, the Court of Appeals concluded otherwise in Michael Harrison v. Veolia Water Indianapolis, LLC, No. 49A04-0912-CV-722. Even though the appellate court had held Indianapolis Water Co., the predecessor to Veolia, was a governmental agency for immunity purposes under common law principles in Metal Working Lubricants Co. v. Indianapolis Water Co., 746 N.E.2d 352 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), the Court of Appeals declined to hold Veolia is a governmental entity under the ITCA.

“The most fundamental basis for this holding is that the courts of Indiana have never recognized the provision of utility services as a power or function ‘governmental in nature’ that gave rise to sovereign immunity, even when a governmental unit was operating the utility, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. If the General Assembly wanted to change this arrangement, it could have done so when it enacted the ITCA by expressly including utilities within the definition of “political subdivision.”

“Simply put, we cannot discern a legislative intent to shield or provide special protections to for-profit enterprises, including ones that are part of a multi-national, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, because they provide services to a governmental entity,” the judge wrote.

In addition, the Indiana Supreme Court has plainly indicated that the operation of a utility, whether by a municipality or private entity is a private business matter, even if the utility is subject to extensive regulation by the state.

The issue was remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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