Justices reverse, remand for new trial in theft case

Indiana Supreme Court justices on Friday reversed a $350,000 verdict and attorney fee award for a Monroe County woman, remanding the case for a new trial on her theft claims.

In April 2019, a jury returned a $350,000 verdict for Jung Hee Kim on her theft claim against Kyung Sil Choi, Bo Kang Park and Han Chong. Kim, who had moved to the United States from South Korea on an investor E-2 visa, had filed a complaint sounding in contract, conversion, fraud and theft against Choi, Park and Chong. The Monroe Circuit Court in Kim’s case also awarded her attorney fees totaling $38,648.54.

On appeal, the defendants argued the trial court erred in communicating with the jury after deliberations began, thus requiring a new trial. They also argued the evidence did not support Kim’s theft verdict.

A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously held that the communication error emphasized certain jury instructions relating to the theft claim and was reversible. But instead of remanding for a new trial, the majority turned to the second issue, held that Kim failed to prove theft and reversed.

Splitting from the majority, Judge Elizabeth Tavitas dissented in part, arguing that whether the evidence supported the theft verdict need not be addressed “given the need for a new trial at which different evidence could be presented.”

The Supreme Court agreed with Tavitas in a Friday per curiam opinion, reversing its denial of the defendants’ motion for judgment on the evidence and motion to correct error.

“Accordingly, we grant transfer and summarily affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision, except its discussion on sufficiency of the evidence, which remains vacated. … We reverse the trial court’s judgment (including its attorney’s fees award) and remand the case for a new trial on Kim’s theft claim,” the high court concluded.

The case is Kyung Sil Choi, Bo Kang Park, and Han Chong v. Jung Hee Kim, 20S-PL-706.

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