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Indiana Court Decisions - May 17-29, 2012

June 6, 2012

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

May 21

Civil – Immigration/Employment

Kristi J. Cortezano v. Salin Bank & Trust Co.

11-1631

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a bank did not violate a woman’s rights by terminating her employment because of her husband’s immigration status.

Kristin Cortezano appealed a ruling from the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. The District Court had granted summary judgment in favor of Salin Bank & Trust Co. in Cortezano’s complaint against the company.

Cortezano worked for Salin Bank while married to a Mexican man who lived in Indiana but did not have proper authorization to be in the United States. When her husband wanted to start a business, Cortezano helped him open bank accounts with Salin. But the business venture floundered and Cortezano’s husband returned to Mexico to sort out his immigration status.

Cortezano told her supervisor about her husband’s status, and the supervisor told Salin’s security officer, Mike Hubbs. In an initial meeting with Cortezano, Hubbs surmised that the husband must have used fraudulent documents to open the bank accounts and he told Cortezano he would file an internal suspicious activity report.

Salin ultimately fired Cortezano, and she argued that her termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 7th Circuit, however, held that Salin fired Cortezano because of her husband’s immigration status, not because of his race or national origin. It affirmed the District Court in all regards and remanded to strike from the record the names of Cortezano’s three children, as the District Court had not previously ruled on that motion.

Civil – Pension/Fraud

Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 719 Pension Fund and Carpenters Pension Fund of West Virginia v. Zimmer Holdings, Inc.; David C. Dvorak; and James T. Crines

11-1471

Two pension funds that own shares of Zimmer Holdings Inc. were unable to prove that Zimmer defrauded its investors by suppressing information, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The two pension funds claimed that Zimmer had downplayed difficulties in manufacturing some of its products and the high failure rate one surgeon reported.

Zimmer makes orthopedic reconstructive devices, including the Durom Acetabular Component, better known as the Durom Cup. The device is used to replace the socket in a hip joint.  

One well-known surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Dorr, reported unacceptably high failure rates after using the Durom Cup in his patients. Zimmer attributed that failure rate – which was substantially higher than what other surgeons reported – to improper surgical technique. It stopped selling the device in the United States while preparing new instructions for implantation, but continued to sell the Durom Cup in Europe, where the failure rate was said to be less than 1 percent.

The plaintiffs argued that Zimmer knowingly misrepresented the reasons for the high failure rate Dorr reported, and that the problem stemmed from poor quality or design. The plaintiffs also contended that Zimmer delayed revealing quality control problems in its Dover, Ohio, plant by reporting misleading earnings projections.

The 7th Circuit held that Zimmer did not try to hide the failures Dorr had encountered and had announced three months prior to Dorr’s findings that it was aware the Durom Cup was challenging to implant and that changes in labeling or training might be required.

In January 2008, Zimmer projected 10 percent to 11 percent revenue growth for the year and net earnings of $4.20 to $4.25 per share. In July, it cut that projection to 8.5 percent to 9 percent growth and net earnings of $4.05 to $4.10 per share. The plaintiffs maintained that Zimmer committed fraud by not using these lower estimates in January.

The District Court dismissed the complaint, finding that it flunked the pleading standards of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The 7th Circuit affirmed.

“Plaintiffs point to many other supposedly false statements and a host of detail that supposedly shows that one or another statement was knowingly false,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote on behalf of the appellate panel. “The district court’s two lengthy opinions address all of these other statements.”

Indiana Court of Appeals

May 17

Post Conviction – Ineffective Counsel/Deportation

Heriberto Suarez v. State of Indiana

02A05-1106-PC-325

A defendant’s trial counsel was deficient by not advising his client about the risk of deportation following a guilty plea, but the defendant wasn’t prejudiced by the performance, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded.

Heriberto Suarez claimed the post-conviction court erred in denying his petition for relief on the basis of ineffective trial counsel. Suarez, who is from Mexico but has lived in the United States since the 1950s without becoming a resident, pleaded guilty to Class C felony child molesting. He faced a Class A felony molesting charge involving his young granddaughter. His attorney did not advise him that he could be deported following his guilty plea. His attorney, Patrick Arata, said he assumed Suarez was an American citizen so he did not ask about Suarez’s status.

Suarez testified he pleaded guilty to receive a shorter sentence so he could take care of his blind wife, who is in poor health. He said he would have fought the Class A felony charge had he known that pleading guilty would subject him to possible deportation.

The appellate court noted that were Suarez to be deported, it would be difficult for him to provide for his wife, although he had a large family that could care for her in his absence. Suarez’s objective probability of success at trial was fairly low, and the benefit conferred upon him by his guilty plea was substantial. Instead of facing up to 50 years in prison, meaning he would have served 41 years, he faced a sentence between two and 8 years and actually received a four-year sentence.

Criminal – Probation Revocation

Timothy Hammerlund v. State of Indiana

33A05-1110-CR-562

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the revocation of a man’s probation after he admitted a violation to the judge at his hearing on petition to revoke.

Timothy Hammerlund was on probation following a plea agreement on a drug charge. At the initial hearing on the petition to revoke alleging that Hammerlund failed a drug screen, Hammerlund was advised of his rights to have an attorney. Hammerlund said he understood and admitted that he took the Alprazolam. The trial judge asked Hammerlund if he was admitting to violating his probation by testing positive for the drug and that he would waive his rights he was advised of earlier in the hearing. Hammerlund said he understood.

After his probation was revoked, he appealed, arguing that his wavier of counsel wasn’t knowing or voluntary because the trial judge didn’t question him regarding whether he was aware of the nature, extent and importance of the right to counsel or the pitfalls of waiving it.

The appellate court likened his case to Greer v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1214, 1217 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998), in which that panel found Greer’s waiver of counsel was valid. The record in Hammerlund’s case establishes he made a knowing, intelligent and voluntary wavier of counsel. He also didn’t contend or establish he suffered any prejudice.

Miscellaneous – Permits

City of Gary and Gary Sanitation District v. Indiana Department of Environmental Management and City of Hobart

49A02-1106-MI-553

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s decision to issue a permit to the city of Hobart to operate a new wastewater treatment plant was not arbitrary, capricious or otherwise contrary to law, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The city of Gary, which has an agreement with Hobart to treat some of its wastewater, challenged the decision to allow Hobart to build a new treatment plant. The new plant would shut down an aging facility in Hobart and discontinue the need for Gary to handle the wastewater. In 2004, IDEM issued the permit allowing the construction of the plant along the Deep River, a tributary to Lake Michigan. The permit set mercury limits of 3.2 parts per trillion and a monthly average of 1.9 ppt per day, which are less than the limits currently allowed at the Gary facility.

Gary asked for administrative review of the permit, which the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication, and later the trial court, upheld.

At issue is the interpretation of 327 Indiana Administrative Code 5-2-11.7(a)(2). Gary read the code to mean that subsections (a),(b) and (c) must be read together; but IDEM, the OEA and the trial court found that only (a) and (b) should be read together and (c) provides a separate way to meet regulation requirements. When IDEM issued the permit, it only applied subsections (a) and (b). The appellate court found IDEM’s interpretation is consistent with the plain language of the regulation, as clauses (a) and (b) are connected by “and;” there is no conjunctive language connecting those clauses with (c).

In addition, the antidegradation factors cited in (c) don’t apply to Hobart’s permit mercury discharges, noted Judge Paul Mathias. The judges also rejected Gary’s argument that issuing the permit will cause significant lowering of water quality in violation of 327 Ind. Admin. Code 5-2-11.3(a) and 5-2-11.7(a)(2).

“We conclude that IDEM’s decision to issue the Hobart Permit was neither arbitrary nor capricious, and that the decision was in accordance with the law and supported by substantial evidence,” Mathias wrote. “And, although the Hobart Permit allows a new source for discharge of mercury, because Hobart will be able to close its non-compliant Nob Hill Plant and treat its wastewater more effectively than it is currently treated by Gary’s facility, the Hobart Permit will result in an overall environmental benefit to and will not cause a significant lowering of water quality in Lake Michigan and its tributary, the Deep River.”

Criminal – Testimony/Expert

Brian Otte v. State of Indiana

84A01-1108-CR-356

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the admission of testimony by a domestic violence expert at trial did not violate four of Indiana’s evidence rules, as the defendant argued.

Brian Otte was convicted of Class D felony residential entry; three counts of Class B misdemeanor battery; Class A misdemeanors criminal mischief and operating a vehicle while intoxicated; Class B misdemeanor failure to stop after an accident resulting in damage to unattended vehicle; and being a habitual offender. Otte broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house, beat up her current boyfriend, and hit his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Amos. After leaving, Otte rammed his car into Amos’ several times.

Otte was charged Nov. 15, 2010; on March 15, 2011, he moved for a speedy trial. On April 29, the state moved for a continuance because two police officers would be out of town and unavailable for the May 19, 2011, trial date. Even after offering refunds to the officers for their vacations they would have to reschedule, one officer refused to move his vacation. The trial court granted the state’s motion and reset the trial for June 2.

At trial, after which defense asked Amos about domestic violence allegations she had made against Otte then recanted, the state introduced testimony from Yvonne Creekbaum, a domestic violence expert. She testified that victims of domestic violence routinely recant their stories.

On appeal, Otte challenged the admission of Creekbaum’s testimony and claimed his right to a speedy trial was violated.

The state made multiple attempts to secure the two officers at trial, but one was not amenable to rescheduling the vacation. Given the precedent permitting Criminal Rule 4(D) extensions for witnesses who are out of state and/or on long-planned vacations, the appellate court was satisfied that the extension was justified in the instant case.

The judges also ruled against Otte on his claims that Creekbaum wasn’t qualified under Indiana Evidence Rule 701 to give lay testimony; that Creekbaum was not qualified to be an expert witness under Rule 702; that Creekbaum’s testimony constituted impermissible vouching testimony pursuant to Rule 704(b); and that it was overly prejudicial pursuant to Rule 403.

Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred in result in a separate opinion, noting that she believed Creekbaum’s testimony was admissible under Rule 702 as syndrome evidence to help the jury understand why Amos recanted certain allegations she made against Otte. Battered Women’s Syndrome is a valid scientific theory under Rule 702, she wrote, so Creekbaum’s testimony regarding BWS is admissible.

Criminal – DNA Evidence

Duane Lee v. State of Indiana

49A04-1105-CR-225

The Indiana Court of Appeals found police acted improperly in swabbing a teen’s penis to obtain DNA evidence and that the trial court erred in admitting this test into evidence, but that the error was harmless.

The appellate judges affirmed Duane Lee’s 13 convictions, which included Class B felony rape and six counts of criminal deviate conduct as Class A felonies. Lee and two other men committed a home invasion, robbery and rape of the resident, and Lee fled from police. He was 17 years old.

Police called Lee’s mother to consent to a DNA swab of Lee’s mouth, hands and penis. She signed the juvenile waiver without meaningfully consulting Lee. Lee only challenges on appeal the admittance of the evidence from the penile swab, which he did not object to at trial.

Lee argued that the trial court fundamentally erred in allowing the DNA test into evidence because the state didn’t prove it had the legal authority to swab his penis. Since he didn’t object at trial, the state didn’t have to explain its decision then. The state now argues that the juvenile waiver statute doesn’t apply because exigent circumstances required an attempt to collect the victim’s DNA from Lee before any evidence was destroyed. But the only support for the argument that the state was concerned about Lee destroying evidence was that the police detective interrogating Lee would not let Lee wash his hands after going to the bathroom.

In addition, if the detective actually believed the evidence was about to be destroyed and exigent circumstances existed, there wasn’t any reason to get Lee’s mother’s consent, noted Chief Judge Margret Robb.

But this error in obtaining and admitting the evidence at trial does not rise to the level of fundamental error. There was other significant evidence to support Lee’s convictions, including the victim’s testimony and Lee’s DNA found on a ski mask and the victim’s mouth.

Criminal – Venue/Invasion of Privacy

Dewayne Jones v. State of Indiana

49A02-1109-CR-855; 49A02-1109-CR-853

In a combined appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found Marion County was the proper venue to try a defendant’s invasion of privacy charges. Dewayne Jones claimed prosecutors couldn’t prove his victims were in Marion County when he called them, a violation of a no-contact order.

Dewayne Jones argued that the state didn’t prove that Marion County was the proper venue for his Class D felony invasion of privacy charges. The two charges stemmed from calls he made to Modesty Jones, his estranged wife, and her mother, Sheila Brown, after a no-contact order had been issued. In case 853, Dewayne Jones was convicted for calling Brown on May 17, 2011; in case 855, he was convicted for calling Modesty Jones’ cell phone on May 20, 2011.

The appellate court cited Indiana Code 35-32-2-1(k), which deals with an offense committed by a person using an electronic communication outside of Indiana directed at an Indiana resident. The statute says that Indiana has jurisdiction over violators of valid protective orders issued in Indiana regardless of whether either the perpetrator or the victim is physically in Indiana at the time of the violation. The state only needed to prove that the two women lived in Marion County at the time the offense was committed. Both women testified that they were in their homes in Marion County when Dewayne Jones called them.

In addition, Dewayne Jones was in Marion County on home detention at the time of the calls.
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May 21

Miscellaneous – Seizure/Drugs

Dante Adams v. State of Indiana

15C01-1106-MI-29

A man who challenged the seizure of $25,000 in suspected drug money and its transfer to federal authorities lost his appeal, but the Indiana Court of Appeals was troubled by the state’s failure to provide him notice of the request for the transfer.

The appeals court unanimously affirmed a Dearborn Circuit Court order transferring the money. Dante Adams appealed the order, contending that he was entitled to notice that the state was requesting the money be transferred for the beginning of forfeiture proceedings. Adams also questioned the lawfulness of a search.

The case originated with Adams’ arrest at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg on June 18, 2011. Adams attempted to exchange $20,000 in cash of various denominations, and he became argumentative with a teller.

Indiana Gaming Commission agents intervened and questioned Adams’ identity after he said he lived in Indianapolis but produced an Arizona identification. Agents determined that Adams was wanted on a Texas parole warrant, and he was arrested by Lawrenceburg police, who confiscated the $20,000.

Police subsequently searched Adams’ vehicle and found another $5,000, and a drug-sniffing dog indicated positive for narcotics during the vehicle search.

On June 28, 2011, authorities filed a motion to transfer the money to federal authorities to begin forfeiture proceedings. Adams argued that the transfer should not have happened because he wasn’t given notice of the request.

“Adams has confused our forfeiture statutes with the turnover statute,” Judge Edward W. Najam Jr. wrote. “We are not (yet) concerned with the forfeiture of the $25,000 and, therefore, Adams’ argument is misplaced. That said, we are also not persuaded by the State’s argument that Adams was not entitled to notice of its motion.”

Najam wrote that transfers of property may be challenged if a defendant contests the search as unlawful. “The state’s arguments on appeal that it was not required to give Adams notice of its motion to transfer are not well taken,” Najam wrote.

The appeals court said that for Adams to succeed on a claim of lack of notice, he would have to demonstrate prejudice as a result.

“Adams contends that he has been prejudiced by the transfer order because the underlying search had no ‘nexus between the cash and the … offense.’ We cannot agree,” Najam wrote. “Here, there is no serious question that the facts underlying the search of Adams’ car and the seizure of his cash were supported by probable cause and were, therefore, lawful.”
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May 22

Juvenile – CHINS

In the Matter of V.H.; J.H. v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services

49A02-1110-JC-947

A 16-year-old Indianapolis girl was improperly adjudicated a child in need of services, and her mother should not have been subject to Department of Child Services oversight, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The court reversed a Marion Superior Court order designating V.H. a child in need of services. The case was remanded to the juvenile court with instructions to vacate the participation order issued for V.H.’s mother, J.H.

Judge John G. Baker wrote in a unanimous opinion that V.H., who outweighed her mother by about 30 pounds, had been the aggressor in at least two physical altercations with her mother, one of which involved DCS after police responded to the mother’s 911 call when the child became physical.

There was no evidence of abuse or neglect, and J.H. had been proactive in seeking psychological and behavioral treatment because DCS failed to do so in a timely manner after the agency became involved.

“Under these facts and circumstances, it is apparent that Mother, who is a working single parent, was addressing V.H.’s behavioral issues. This is something for which we should applaud parents rather than condemn them through coercive action,” Baker wrote in reversing the CHINS adjudication.

The mother obtained a psychological evaluation of her daughter because DCS could not provide one for three to six months, despite the mother’s repeated requests. “In light of this evidence, we cannot agree that V.H. needs care, treatment, or rehabilitation that she is not receiving and is unlikely to be provided or accepted without the coercive intervention of the court,” Baker wrote.

The court also ruled that because of procedural errors in the juvenile hearings, the participation order would have been vacated even if the judges had upheld the CHINS adjudication. The participation order bound the mother to maintain regular contact with the case manager, including home visits, participation and successful completion of home-based counseling and other requirements, including reimbursing DCS $25 a week.

Baker’s opinion also reiterated a prior appeal of a DCS case that warned the agency against using boilerplate language in CHINS cases, such as spelling out “standard services” in participation orders.

“In A.C. v. Marion County Department of Child Services, 905 N.E.2d 456, 464-65 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), this court vacated portions of a participation decree because it utilized boilerplate language requiring the mother to undergo services where there was no evidence in the record to support the need for those services. We cautioned that: The use of boilerplate language can make the citizenry cynical about the requirements necessary to achieve the goals of a CHINS adjudication.

“Forcing unnecessary requirements upon parents whose children have been adjudicated as CHINS could set them up for failure with the end result being not only a failure to achieve the goal of reunification, but potentially, the termination of parental rights. … In short, Mother was ordered to complete requirements and accept services that were not supported by the record because the DCS recommended only ‘standard services.’ … We discourage the juvenile courts from using such boilerplate requirements.”
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May 23

Criminal – Intimidation/Weapons in Schools

Gabriel J. Sharkey v. State of Indiana

84A04-1110-CR-550

A father who was upset that he couldn’t talk to his daughter after she was arrested at school for having drugs threatened to come to the school with his “guns blaring.” He was arrested and given a suspended sentence for Class D felony intimidation, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

Gabriel Sharkey told the officer who arrested his daughter that he would come to school with his guns, that he has a 12 gauge and that “I’ll come down and I’ll let everybody have it.” The high school was put on lock down as a result of his threat. Sharkey was charged with Class D felony intimidation and Class A misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor but pleaded just to the intimidation charge.

The plea agreement capped his maximum sentence at 18 months and allowed him to argue his conviction should be entered as a Class A misdemeanor. The trial judge declined to enter the conviction as a misdemeanor, however, after reading a letter from the arresting officer about Sharkey’s threat. His comments to the officer came near the time last year that several police officers were shot in the United States. The trial judge also noted that Sharkey initially denied he made the threat and later denied it was a specific threat to the arresting officer.

Sharkey argued on appeal that the trial court’s consideration of only one aggravator – that the harm caused was greater than that necessary to prove the commission of the offense – was offered without any evidence. The appellate court concluded it was a proper aggravator.

“In finding this aggravator, the trial court relied on the letter of the arresting officer which described the effects Sharkey’s threats had on himself and on the school community. The letter detailed the enormous safety concerns triggered by Sharkey’s vivid threat of blazing guns onto the school community at large. This was a concern that not only affected the victim of the intimidation but spilled over to eighteen hundred high school students and hundreds of faculty members,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The COA also found the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in not finding any mitigators and that his character and nature of the crime support the 18-month suspended sentence.

Criminal – Appeal/Child Molesting

Willie Huguley v. State of Indiana

49A02-1105-CR-413

The Indiana Court of Appeals held that a man cannot appeal the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, but the trial court should determine whether the defendant has been without fault and diligent in pursuit of his original appeal of child molesting convictions.

Willie Huguley was convicted of three charges of child molesting in 1999. His attorney filed a timely appeal, but he later petitioned the COA to terminate the appeal and remand the cause to the trial court to let Huguley seek post-conviction relief regarding ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The appellate court granted the petition, terminated the appeal, and remanded to the trial court. The post-conviction court denied his petition for relief, and no notice of appeal of that decision was ever initiated.

Eight years later, Huguley’s present attorney filed a petition for belated perfection of appeal. Huguley claimed he was unaware that his request for post-conviction relief was denied or that no notice of appeal was filed. He argued he was diligent in determining why his appeal wasn’t pursued.  

The Court of Appeals concluded that Huguley is unable to appeal the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, but that his original appeal may be “revived.” The judges found that Huguley met the requirements under Indiana Post Conviction Rule 2(3) and sent the issue back to the trial court to allow Huguley the opportunity to make a factual case to support his allegations.

If the trial court finds in favor of Huguley, then he may continue his appeal as originally initiated, the judges held.

Small Claim – Due Process

Lisa Reynolds v. Daniel Capps

77A05-1110-SC-567

The Indiana Court of Appeals held that a woman was denied due process in small claims court when the court reporter presided over an initial hearing and ordered the woman to move out of her apartment.

Daniel Capps filed a small claims complaint against tenant Lisa Reynolds for ejectment, damages and rent. A trial date was set for Sept. 13, 2011. The complaint stated the claim would be heard by the court at a trial in Sullivan Superior Court.

No judge was present for the hearing; instead, it was conducted by the court reporter. No witnesses were sworn or evidence heard. The court reporter repeatedly said that evidence relating to the allegations would be heard later. The court reporter then gave Reynolds a pre-signed “initial hearing/judgment order” form requiring her to move out of the apartment.

At a damages hearing held by a judge Sept. 30, 2011, Reynolds was ordered to pay $975.

The appellate court was concerned that there was no transcript of the hearing and that the trial judge, who was not present at the hearing, certified a statement of evidence for Reynolds from that hearing.

“It is an understatement to say that the hearing proceeded from the outset under the expectation that Capps was entitled to immediate possession of the premises,” wrote Judge Michael Barnes. “Even taking into account the informality of the small claims process, if the hearings on evictions are regularly conducted without a judicial officer present, we pointedly and directly express our concern and expect that situation to be remedied.”

The Sept. 13 hearing did not satisfy minimum due process requirements, including that a judge or someone authorized to do so preside over the hearing. Reynolds wasn’t allowed the opportunity to defend against the ejectment and then was given a pre-signed order. The judges reversed the trial court.
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May 24

Mortgage Foreclosure – Equitable Subrogation

Finance Center Federal Credit Union v. Ronnie D. Brand, Debora J. Brand and GMAC Mortgage, LLC

49A02-1111-MF-1089

In a dispute over which mortgage has priority in a foreclosure action, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the senior mortgage holder. The judges found the doctrine of equitable subrogation applies.

Ronnie and Debora Brand obtained a mortgage for more than $107,000 with Meridian Group Mortgage Corp. and a second mortgage for a $25,000 home equity line of credit with Finance Center Federal Credit Union in 2002. The Brands later refinanced with First Republic Mortgage Corp. which paid off both Meridian Group and Finance Center. The First Republic mortgage was later assigned to GMAC Mortgage.

Finance Center never released the mortgage because the Brands did not send notice requesting release of the lien. The line of credit was left open and the company later advanced more money to the Brands. When GMAC attempted to foreclose on the real estate, Finance Center argued that its mortgage should be first in priority.

Both companies filed for summary judgment, and the trial court granted partial summary judgment to GMAC, finding it should have priority and Finance Center would be the junior lienholder.

Finance Center argued that GMAC isn’t entitled to first lien pursuant to the doctrine of equitable subrogation because GMAC was culpably negligent by not obtaining a release of the Finance Center mortgage. The appellate court cited JPMorgan Chase Bank v. Howell, 883 N.E.2d 106 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), a case involving a similar dispute in which the judges found no culpable negligence in the refinancing lender’s failure to ensure that it had properly paid off the junior line of credit.

Any negligence in GMAC’s failure didn’t prejudice Finance Center because the Finance Center mortgage was always junior to the senior Meridian Group mortgage, which was fully satisfied with the loan proceeds from the GMAC refinancing, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. Allowing GMAC to step into the shoes of the Meridian Group mortgage will leave Finance Center in the same junior position.

Criminal – First Impression/Drugs

Samantha Adams v. State of Indiana

49A05-1107-CR-372

A woman’s objection over how much marijuana was being attributed to her led the Indiana Court of Appeals to apply for the first time Supreme Court precedent regarding possession of marijuana.

Samantha Adams appealed the denial of her motion to dismiss Class D felonies dealing in marijuana and possession of marijuana. Both charges were enhanced from Class A misdemeanors due to the weight of the drug involved. Adams claimed that the dried weight of the drug should have been around 17 grams instead of 69 grams. More than 30 grams leads to enhanced charges.

Adams disagreed with how the plants were weighed. The forensic scientist with the Indianapolis/Marion County Forensics Services Agency cut off the “mature stalks” of the plants – which would be the roots and stalk up to the first branch of each plant – and weighed the remaining leaves, immature stalks and stems together.  

On interlocutory appeal, Adams argued her due process rights were violated because Indiana Code doesn’t clearly state which parts of the plant are excluded from the legal definition of marijuana. The statute doesn’t define what “mature stalks” are, but does say that those are not included in the definition of marijuana. Adams introduced evidence that the Indiana State Police Lab sometimes excludes the entire stalk in its calculations of weight, and if that was done in her case, the weight would have been less than 30 grams.

The appellate court relied on Lawhorn v. State, 452 N.E.2d 915, 917 (1983), in which the Supreme Court, in looking at the cocaine dealing statutes, held that adulterated and not just pure forms of the drug could be used to support an enhancement.

The Court of Appeals had previously applied this decision to marijuana dealing and held that the issue of identifying mature stalks is irrelevant because it’s clear that the sentence enhancement may be supported by an adulterated form of marijuana, which includes “other vegetable matter” not included within the definition of marijuana, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

But the judges had not yet addressed Lawhorn’s application to the provisions regarding possession of marijuana. The General Assembly has amended Indiana Code 35-48-4-11 to include “pure or adulterated” marijuana when defining the Class A misdemeanor, but did not include “pure or adulterated” when discussing the enhancement.

The judges concluded that the marijuana referred to in the enhancement can only refer to the “pure or adulterated” drug mentioned in the preceding sentence in the statute. They found the statute to not be vague or unconstitutional and affirmed the denial of Adams’ motion to dismiss.  
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May 25

Criminal – Drugs/Final Judgment

E. Paul Haste v. State of Indiana

03A01-1108-CR-369

The Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed sua sponte a man’s appeal of his conviction of and sentence for Class B felony dealing in methamphetamine, because the order he appeals from isn’t a final judgment.

E. Paul Haste was convicted of the drug charge, and at an Aug. 17, 2011, sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Haste to a 10-year executed sentence and said it would take the issue of restitution under advisement. Haste’s drug manufacturing activity caused $90,000 worth of damage to his landlord’s home.

Several days later, before the trial court entered an order on the restitution, Haste appealed. The Aug. 17 sentencing order isn’t an appealable final judgment, so the appellate court dismissed the appeal. It appears a final judgment was entered in October 2011, but it wasn’t made part of the record on appeal, and the judges were unsure whether Haste appealed that order. His conduct might qualify him to file a petition for permission to file a belated notice of appeal under Post-Conviction Rule 2, the court concluded.

Civil Plenary – Auto Accident/Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Mark Gasser v. Lesa B. Downing, Auto-Owners Insurance Co. and Property Owners Insurance Co.

19A05-1108-PL-419

A man who was involved in a car accident while riding in his friend’s vehicle lost his appeal in which he argued that his friend’s car was a temporary substitute for his own and he should be entitled to underinsured motorist coverage.

Mark Gasser and three friends scheduled a time to play golf, but on that day, the battery was dead in his pickup truck. His girlfriend was driving his other car, so Gasser asked friend Rex Kamman to pick him up. On their way to the golf course, they were involved in a collision.

Gasser’s cars were owned by his business, and he had them insured with Auto-Owners Insurance Co. His policy states that it applies to a car that “you do not own which is temporarily used as a substitute for your automobile. Your automobile must be out of use because of breakdown, repair, servicing, loss or destruction.”

Only once has the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed a car being a “temporary substitute” for insurance purposes, Deadwiler v. Chicago Motor Club Ins. Co., 603, N.E.29 1365 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992). Deadwiler addressed the “temporary substitute” issue for the first time and determined that a daughter’s car was not a “temporary substitute vehicle” covered under her mother’s policy. The daughter went to check on her sister after being asked by her mother to do so and was involved in an accident. The court held the daughter’s actions were characterized as a favor to her mother rather than as fulfillment of a prior contractual or legal obligation owed to her mother.

The court ruled Gasser’s ride to the golf course is similarly a “favor” by Kamman, so Auto-Owners was entitled to summary judgment.

Civil Tort – Damages Liability

Cody Dallas v. Brandon Cessna

80A02-1110-CT-925

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the finding that a man was jointly and severally liable for damages following a fight over a girl.

Brandon Cessna sought damages for personal injuries from Cody Dallas and Cody Lewellen, who beat him up when they went to Indiana University. Lewellen previously dated Cessna’s girlfriend, and Cessna and Lewellen had exchanged Facebook messages. At some point, Cessna told Lewellen to come to Bloomington so he could fight him.

Lewellen and two friends, including Dallas, went to Bloomington to retrieve Dallas’ car, which he had left in Bloomington the weekend prior. On the way there, Dallas and the other friend, Kyle Morris, learned about the words exchanged between Cessna and Lewellen. Lewellen and Cessna arranged a meeting outside a dorm, and Lewellen beat up Cessna. Dallas kicked Cessna in the face while he was on the ground and possibly unconscious. Cessna’s family claims he’s undergone a personality change since the assault.

Lewellen and Dallas entered into plea agreements with the state over the assault. Cessna then filed his complaint against the two, which found Lewellen and Dallas jointly and severally liable and ordered them to pay $75,000.

Dallas argued that he should only be held liable for the damages specifically caused by him, citing Ind. Dept. of Ins. V. Everhart, 960 N.E.2d 129 (Ind. 2012), in which the Supreme Court interpreted the Comparative Fault Act as abrogating the old rule of joint and several liability in suits to which the act applies. But the COA found this abrogation only relates to liability ground in negligence.

“The Act clearly stipulates that Cessna may recover one hundred percent of his damages for the intentional tort from Dallas, as Dallas pled guilty after a prosecution based on the same evidence used in the civil proceedings,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley. “Because both Dallas and Lewellen were involved in the battery on Cessna and both were held liable after a criminal prosecution based on the same evidence, the imposition of joint and several liability for Cessna’s damages complies with the statutory requirement of I.C. § 34-51-2-10.” The COA also declined to address Dallas’ argument on proximate cause because it amounted to a reweighing of a witness’s credibility.

Estate Supervised – Settlement Agreement

In Re the Estate of Ruby Shuler Blankenbaker Botkins, Deceased; Mark Allen Shuler and David Lee Shuler, co-personal representatives v. Estate of George Botkins and Larry Botkins, personal rep.

22A05-1109-ES-481

Even though the trial court said its order regarding a petition to set aside a family settlement agreement was final and appealable, it was not, so the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal sua sponte.

Mark and David Shuler, co-personal representatives of the estate of Ruby Shuler Blankenbaker Botkins and nephews of Botkins, appealed the denial of their motion to set aside a family settlement agreement they entered into with Botkins’ surviving husband after Botkins’ death. The agreement said the Shulers would act as co-representatives of the estate and administer it in a manner that follows the directives of a will Botkins created in 1992.

Several months later, while the estate was still open, the Shulers found another will executed by Botkins in 1987. They filed a petition to set aside the agreement and admit the 1987 will to probate, but the husband objected. The Shulers sought interlocutory appeal, which the COA denied, and then asked the trial court to make its April 12, 2011, denial of their petition a final judgment. The trial court entered the purported final order on Sept. 2.

The COA dismissed, finding the trial court’s order didn’t comply with Trial Rule 54(B). In addition, orders issued by a probate court aren’t final until the estate is closed. The order from which the Shulers appeal is also not an appealable interlocutory order, so the appellate court ruled it does not have subject matter jurisdiction.

Criminal –Suppression of Evidence/Harmless Error

Anthony Dorelle-Moore v. State of Indiana

45A04-1109-CR-482

The Indiana Court of Appeals found the evidence that a defendant committed murder was overwhelming, so any suppression of a witness’s testimony by the prosecution was no more than a harmless error.

Anthony Dorelle-Moore claimed the trial court erred in refusing to grant a continuance, mistrial or motion to correct error due to prosecutor misconduct. Dorelle-Moore was charged with the murder of Isaiah Claxton. Claxton came to Dorelle-Moore’s home to buy marijuana. Dorelle-Moore believed that Claxton and two other men robbed his home several hours earlier. While Claxton was at Dorelle-Moore’s home, Dorelle-Moore shot him nine times, killing Claxton.

At trial, it came to light that a gun stolen from the burglary of Dorelle-Moore’s home had been recovered when Willie Lee James was arrested. James allegedly claimed to have gotten the gun from Bernard Hamilton, a man Dorelle-Moore believed also robbed his home. Dorelle-Moore tried to get James to testify, but he claims that the prosecution spoke with James and overtly or implicitly threatened that if he testified for Dorelle-Moore, he would be arrested.

“Here, assuming that the prosecutor’s reference to a warrant for James’s arrest effectively discouraged his testimony, Dorelle-Moore did not identify materially favorable testimony to be obtained from James,” wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey.

Dorelle-Moore shot Clayton with an eyewitness present, and several others saw Dorelle-Moore with a gun just after the shooting. The evidence of his guilt was overwhelming, so the suppression of James’ testimony wasn’t more than a harmless error, the court ruled.

Criminal – Witness Testimony/Murder

Tyjuan J. Dixon v. State of Indiana

45A03-1110-CR-482

The Indiana Court of Appeals found the trial court did not err in allowing a police detective to testify as to what a witness told him about a shooting.

Tyjuan Dixon appealed his convictions of murder and two counts of Class A felony attempted murder. Dixon showed up at the apartment complex of his half-brother, Edward Bond, to attempt to calm his half-brother down because of an argument. Dixon, in turn, shot three people, killing one and seriously injuring the other two.

At trial, the state called Bond’s girlfriend, Catrenna Walker, as a witness. She testified she couldn’t remember or recall whether Dixon got out of his car when he came to the complex or what she told police. The trial court, over Dixon’s objection, allowed the police detective who took Walker’s statement to provide extrinsic impeachment of her testimony.

“Walker neither admitted nor denied making the prior statement regarding Dixon’s attire and conduct, but testified that she did not recall making the statement, could not recall at trial whether she saw Dixon get out of the car, and reading the written transcript of her statement did not refresh her memory,” wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey.

 As in Dunlap v. State, 761 N.E.2d 837 (Ind. 2002), this does not take the decision on whether to admit the detective’s testimony and the written version of Walker’s statement outside “the ambit of the trial court’s discretion to determine inconsistency,” wrote the judge.

Even if the trial court had abused its discretion, the error was harmless because there were eyewitnesses who saw Dixon get out of his car and identified him as the shooter.
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May 29

Civil Tort – Retainer Fee/Fraud

Jason Tye Myers v. Charles R. Deets III, Deets & Kennedy, and Great American Insurance Group

79A02-1108-CT-77

In a lawsuit against an attorney, law firm and the firm’s insurer, the Indiana Court of Appeals was divided in its ruling over whether the trial court correctly granted the insurer’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

Jason Tye Myers filed a lawsuit against Charles R. Deets III for fraud, and named his former partner Edward L. Kennedy, law firm Deets & Kennedy, and Great American Insurance Group as parties. Myers hired Deets – who was deceased when the suit was filed – for a criminal matter and Deets didn’t return a portion of a retainer fee after Myers fired him in 2005. Myers filed his lawsuit, which claimed fraud and constructive fraud, in 2011. He believed Kennedy, the law firm and the insurer were liable for the debt.

Great American moved for judgment on the pleadings; Kennedy and the law firm moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted both motions following a hearing.

The appellate court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Kennedy and the law firm, finding Myers didn’t prove there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Deets and Kennedy were partners at any time relevant to Myers’ complaint. As a result, he’s unable to show that either Kennedy or the firm is liable for Kennedy’s alleged fraudulent conduct.

Judges Edward Najam and Carr Darden reversed the grant of Great American’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Myers’ complaint is sufficient to seek relief by way of a declaratory judgment. While his complaint doesn’t expressly seek a declaratory judgment on the question of insurance coverage, the assertion of a specific theory in a complaint isn’t required under notice pleading, wrote Najam. Myers stated facts that would support a declaratory judgment action.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented on this point, writing that Myers’ complaint contemplates a direct action against the law firm, not a declaratory judgment. At no point does Myers try to seek a declaration that the insurance policy is in effect; instead he seeks reimbursement of his retainer fee. She doesn’t see any circumstances which would grant Myers relief.

Civil Plenary – Hospital/Lease

Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, Inc. v. EON Properties, LLC

45A05-1110-PL-587

The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that a hospital did owe rent to the property owner for a broken lease involving a third party, but the damages the trial court ordered the hospital pay need to be reconsidered.

Sisters of St. Francis Health Services Inc. had a lease agreement with EON Properties in Schererville beginning in 2000. Over the years, the hospital’s office space was reduced and portions were leased to two separate tenants. When EON entered into a lease agreement with these new tenants, the hospital’s rent was reduced accordingly. As part of its lease with Ameriquest, EON required through a third amendment with the hospital’s lease that the hospital be responsible for the last two years of Ameriquest’s lease if the company vacated before its five-year lease ended. EON would be responsible for the first 3 years if Ameriquest left early.

Ameriquest ended up vacating after only 29 months, so EON sought the last two years’ lease payments from the hospital. The hospital refused to pay, so EON filed this lawsuit for breach of lease and quantum meruit. The hospital counterclaimed for breach of lease and quantum meruit because EON increased the hospital’s rent payments and allegedly accepted overpayments from Sisters of St. Francis. The trial court granted summary judgment for EON and ordered the hospital pay more than $180,000.

The Court of Appeals upheld the finding that the hospital was liable for the last two years of the Ameriquest lease, rejecting Sisters of St. Francis’ claim that Ameriquest had to occupy the premises for 36 months and had to properly exercise its option to vacate before the hospital could be held liable under the amendment to the hospital’s lease. But those terms were in the lease agreement between EON and Ameriquest, and the hospital was not a party to those terms.

The trial court did err by granting summary judgment in favor of EON with respect to the amount of damages the hospital owed as there are genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Sisters of St. Francis should receive credits for a security deposit, its claimed overpayments under the second lease amendment, and the improperly increased rent that EON doesn’t dispute. The trial court is to continue with the underlying litigation on the damages issue.

Criminal – Sentence Revocation/Fleeing

Jason B. Saunders v. State of Indiana

06A01-1111-CR-596

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the revocation of a man’s suspension for probation violations after finding the trial court did not err in ordering the man serve the remainder of his originally suspended sentence.

Jason B. Saunders pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated as a Class D felony in 2000, received a suspended sentence, and was placed on probation for two years. He was ordered to obey all laws and refrain from alcohol consumption. A month later, the state filed a notice of probation violation because Saunders never reported to the probation officer as ordered. An arrest warrant was issued the same day, and 11 years later, the warrant was expanded to include Tennessee.

Saunders was arrested in 2011 and had committed several offenses in Tennessee while on probation in Indiana. The trial court rejected his probation officer’s recommendation that he receive a 180-day sanction so that he could go back to Tennessee to face his probation penalties there using “Tennessee tax payers’ money.”

On appeal, Saunders claimed that the state’s 11-year delay in arresting him and pursuing the 2000 probation revocation matter amounted to a denial of his right to due process. He didn’t raise those arguments on the trial level, so the appellate court considered whether there was a fundamental error. Any prejudice that may have resulted to Saunders was because he fled from Indiana for 11 years. He admitted to all the violations and hasn’t shown his defense to the violations was impaired by the state’s delay in prosecution, wrote Judge John Baker.

Saunders’ violation of two conditions of his probation, which included committing several new offenses, justified the imposition of the entirety of his previously suspended three-year sentence, the judges held.•

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