7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Civil – Wrongful Arrest/Excessive Force
Miguel Gutierrez v. Michael R. Kermon
A man’s federal lawsuit against two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and the city will go forward after a federal judge rejected one officer’s interlocutory appeal.
Miguel Gutierrez sued IMPD officers Michael Kermon and Jason Thalheimer in February 2011, alleging wrongful arrest, use of excessive force and malicious prosecution after an arrest.
Gutierrez, 56, was born in Nicaragua but has lived in the U.S. more than 30 years, according to court records. He was walking home one night in March 2009 after working on his truck, and because he lives in a high-crime area, he carried a golf club for his protection.
Kermon was patrolling the area in response to a call about a fight involving two African-Americans and another person, and he relied on Gutierrez’s “unsteady gait” as part of the probable cause for a stop resulting in a public intoxication charge that later was thrown out.
Gutierrez said he doesn’t drink and his gait was due to an injury. He claims in his federal suit that Kermon rolled up with headlights off and didn’t identify himself as an officer when he ordered him to stop. Gutierrez claims Kermon pepper sprayed him, kicked him and broke his ribs, and refused to give him a breath test when he asked for one.
Kermon asked the 7th Circuit to reverse a District Court denial of his motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Judge Diane Wood wrote the court had no jurisdiction because Kermon relied on Gutierrez’s disputed unsteadiness, and the court will not reweigh evidence.
“Officer Kermon’s entire argument is dependent upon a disputed fact. Our cases have given fair warning that an interlocutory appeal will be dismissed if the argument for qualified immunity is dependent upon disputed facts,” Wood wrote. “Officer Kermon’s unabashed reliance on that disputed fact in support of his plea for qualified immunity deprives us of jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal. We therefore dismiss this appeal.”
Wood also chastised the undisputed facts Kermon cited to make his immunity argument on appeal: Gutierrez’s dirty, disheveled appearance, his possession of a golf club; his apparent agitation and lack of cooperation, and his red, watery eyes.
“No reasonable officer could have reasonably, even if mistakenly, believed that these circumstances added up to probable cause that Gutierrez was committing the crime of public intoxication,” Wood wrote.
“The district court found that the issue of whether Gutierrez was swaying or walking with an unsteady gait is a genuine factual dispute in need of a jury’s attention.”
Gutierrez’s suit before Judge Tayna Walton Pratt in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana is Miguel Gutierrez v. The City of Indianapolis, Michael R. Kermon and Jason M. Thalheimer, 1:11-CV-0185. A jury trial date has not yet been set.
Indiana Supreme Court
Civil Plenary – Termination of Employment/Vacation Pay
Commissioner of Labor on the Relation of Stephen R. Shofstall, Edward C. Posey, and Deborah N. Posey v. International Union of Painters and Allied Trades AFL-CIO, CLC District Council 91
The Indiana Supreme Court ordered more proceedings on a fired union employee’s complaint seeking payment for unused vacation time. The justices held that she is entitled to accrue vacation pay unless there was an arrangement or policy to the contrary, which is in dispute in this case.
Deborah Posey, a clerical employee and voluntary member of CLC District Council 91, her husband Edward Posey and Stephen Shofstall sued after they were fired when Edward Posey and Shofstall – who held elected positions in the union – lost their respective elections. Edward Posey was the union business manager/secretary-treasurer and Shofstall was a union business representative.
The union declined to pay the three for any unused vacation time according to its bylaws. The trial court granted summary judgment for the union on the issue; the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.
The Supreme Court affirmed with respect to Edward Posey and Shofstall, holding that under the union’s bylaws, it had an arrangement or policy preventing the disbursement of accrued but unused vacation pay to officers. The two had argued they were employees under the state’s Wage Payment Statute.
But the justices decided there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Deborah Posey, as an employee, was entitled to her unused vacation pay. They held that a voluntary association, in the absence of an “arrangement or policy” on vacation pay with respect to employees, must comply with Indiana law and the Wage Payment Statute.
“[N]either the Union’s constitution nor its bylaws define the compensation of Union employees like Deborah. It is undisputed that the Union did not have a written vacation policy for employees during the period that Deborah worked there. Thus, to defeat her claim for accrued vacation under the Wage Payment Statute, the Union must show it had an ‘arrangement or policy’ that limited employees’ right to accrued vacation. We find the Union did not make a sufficient showing to preclude Deborah’s claim,” Justice Mark Massa wrote.
Her suit goes back to the trial court for more proceedings.
Discipline – Attorney/Client Confidentiality
In the Matter of: Joseph Stork Smith
Guardianship – Grandparent Visitation
In Re the Guardianship of A.J.A. and L.M.A., Minor Children; J.C. v. J.B. and S.B.
Because a grandmother did not have standing under the terms of Indiana’s Grandparent Visitation Statute to pursue visitation, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that an original order granting visitation is void. The woman wanted to see her two grandchildren whose mother was murdered by the grandmother’s son.
Paternal grandmother J.C. filed a petition to intervene in the guardianship of A.J.A. and L.M.A., who were in the custody of their uncle and his partner after their father murdered their mother. J.C. sought grandparent visitation rights and was granted supervised visitation in 2009. The guardians later sought to end her visitation rights after learning J.C. allowed contact between grandchildren and her son, who was in prison for the murder.
In 2012, the trial court declared the 2009 order void after finding J.C. lacked standing under the Grandparent Visitation Statute.
The law allows grandparents to petition for visitation if the child’s parent is deceased, the marriage of the child’s parents has been dissolved in Indiana, or the child was born out of wedlock. J.C. claimed that her son should be considered deceased because of his 60-year prison sentence or that the marriage between her son and his wife is dissolved because of the murder.
“In the present case, both of Grandmother’s theories would produce an absurd result. Her first theory, that her son is for all intents and purposes deceased, unfortunately attempts to circumvent the strict interpretation the statute is due and therefore her argument fails. Her son is not dead,” Justice Steven David wrote. “Grandmother’s other theory for grandparent visitation is that by virtue of the murder, the marriage was dissolved. This produces an even more nonsensical result. We cannot construe any scenario where the General Assembly intended the Grandparent Visitation Act to potentially require grandparent visitation by the mother of an individual who shot and killed the grandchildren’s other parent.”
The justices held that the original order granting J.C. visitation was void and thus without legal effect. They affirmed the 2012 order finding the same result.
“This is a case where Grandmother had no legal right to pursue grandparent visitation under the statute. Remand cannot cure the defect. The only cure is to hold the original order was void ab initio,” David wrote.
Indiana Court of Appeals
Juvenile – Paternity/Maternity
In the Matter of the Paternity and Maternity of Infant T.
A married woman who acted as a surrogate for another couple cannot petition to disestablish her maternity because it would cause the child to be “declared a child without a mother,” the Indiana Court of Appeals determined on interlocutory appeal.
S.T. acted as a surrogate for M.F. She was implanted with an embryo fertilized by M.F.’s sperm and an unknown donor’s eggs and became pregnant. M.F.’s wife planned on adopting the child once it was born. M.F., S.T. and S.T.’s husband C.T. jointly filed an agreed petition with the Putman Circuit Court to establish M.F.’s paternity and disestablish S.T.’s maternity.
The trial court denied the petition and certified it for interlocutory appeal.
“We hold that S.T.’s petition to disestablish maternity is not cognizable. It would not be in the best interests of the child, and would be contrary to public policy, to allow the birth mother to have the child declared a child without a mother. And it would be inconsistent to allow for petitions to disestablish maternity when petitions to disestablish paternity are forbidden,” Judge Edward Najam wrote.
“However, our holding does not exclude the indirect disestablishment of maternity, such as in (In re Paternity & Maternity of Infant R., 922 N.E.2d 59, 60 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010)). The indirect disestablishment of maternity requires a putative mother to petition the court for the establishment of maternity and to prove her maternity by clear and convincing evidence, not simply by affidavit or stipulation. If the putative mother satisfies her burden of proof, the establishment of maternity in her would indirectly disestablish maternity in the birth mother. But we are not presented with facts demonstrating maternity in any woman other than S.T. Indiana law presumes the birth mother of a child is the child’s biological mother.”
The COA reversed the trial court’s denial of the petition regarding M.F., however. The Indiana Supreme Court has made clear that a joint stipulation between the birth mother and the putative father constitutes sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that the woman’s husband is the father. Here, all the parties stipulated that M.F. is the biological father of the infant born in February 2013.
The appeals court remanded for the trial court to enter an order establishing M.F.’s paternity.
Ordinance Violation – Jury Trial
Robert M. Gates v. City of Indianapolis
Because the underlying substantive claims brought against an Indianapolis man regarding his treatment of his dog are quasi-criminal, he is entitled to a jury trial under the Indiana Constitution, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.
The city of Indianapolis filed a civil complaint against Robert Gates alleging he violated three ordinances for allowing his dog to defecate on a public street without cleaning it up, hitting his dog multiple times, and for not having permanent identification or proof of rabies vaccination for the dog. Gates filed a demand for a jury trial, which the trial court denied.
The Court of Appeals relied on Cunningham v. State, 835 N.E.2d 1075, 1076 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), and Midwest Security Life Insurance Co. v. Stroup, 730 N.E.2d 163, 169-70 (Ind. 2000), to find that Gates is entitled to a jury trial under Article I, Section 20 of the state Constitution.
The COA had to determine whether the cause of action at issue is equitable or legal in nature, as those terms were used in 1852 under Indiana Trial Rule 38(A), as explained by Justice Theodore Boehm in Midwest, since the ordinances at issue did not exist prior to 1852.
The Supreme Court has held that the violation of city ordinances is of a quasi-criminal nature. Judge Edward Najam wrote that the violations at issue here are also quasi-criminal because they are enforced by the city’s Department of Public Safety, complaints are initiated and litigated by a prosecuting attorney on behalf of the city, and violators are fined by the government. The judges agreed with Gates that the mandatory fines imposed in this case are like claims for money damages, which were “exclusively legal actions in 1852.”
The COA ordered the trial court to grant Gates’ jury trial request.
Civil Tort – Comparative Fault Act
Marshall Banter v. Joshua Sheets
A jury that found a Kokomo motorist 70 percent at fault when his vehicle sitting at an intersection was rear-ended misread the law, as did a judge who instructed jurors, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
Marshall Banter, who was injured five years ago, will get a new trial, the panel ruled. He twice has been found 70 percent at fault in the crash, and he appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct error after the most recent verdict.
The court ruled that the jury misunderstood and misapplied Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act, particularly because Joshua Sheets did not dispute his liability in the crash.
The appellate panel found fault with the following instruction Howard Superior Judge George A. Hopkins offered jurors: “If you find a plaintiff failed to use reasonable care to minimize any of the damages he alleges he has sustained and that failure was a proximate cause of any of the damages he claims, then such conduct would constitute fault to be assessed against the plaintiff.”
“We hold that … portion of this jury instruction is an incorrect statement of the law,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the court.
“Because Sheets conceded liability, the only issue for the jury to determine was the amount of Banter’s damages, and there was no basis for any assessment of fault against Banter. We reverse and remand for a new trial, and the jury shall be instructed in relevant part that Sheets has conceded 100% fault in causing the accident and that the jury shall only determine the amount of Banter’s damages, if any.”
Criminal – No-Contact Order/Reasonable Person
William Chavers v. State of Indiana
In affirming the conviction of a man who violated a no-contact order, the Indiana Court of Appeals split over what a “reasonable person” would have done in similar circumstances.
The case originated from two separate protection orders issued against William Chavers by two different courts in Marion County.
One civil-protection order was issued by Marion Superior Court 21 on July 16, 2012, but dismissed Sept. 10, 2012. The other no-contact order was signed by Marion Superior Court 16 on Sept. 17, 2012, as a condition of Chavers’ probation following his guilty plea for Class D felony criminal confinement.
Court 16 noted the no-contact order could be vacated at the victims’ request.
A few days after the Sept. 17 hearing, Amber Cushenberry, one of Chavers’ victims who had sought the original protective order, went to Court 21 to ask the protective order be removed. She was given paperwork indicating that the order had already been dismissed. She did not go to Court 16.
On Sept. 20, 2012, Cushenberry told Chavers that she had the protective order dismissed and he could come to her home.
However, when Indianapolis Metropolitan Police discovered Chavers at Cushenberry’s home, he was charged and subsequently convicted of Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy in violation of Court 16’s no-contact order.
Chavers appealed on the grounds that his violation of the Court 16 order was a mistake of fact, negating his culpability.
The Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, ruling that Chavers failed to show he made an honest and reasonable mistake of fact.
Writing for the majority, Judge Paul Mathias concluded even if Chavers mistake was honest, it is not clear that his mistake was reasonable. Chavers did not ask to see Cushenberry’s documentation and instead relied only on her assertion even though he had been informed by his probation officer that day that the no-contact order was still in effect.
“In the face of such conflicting information, a reasonable person would attempt to verify the validity of the order, by looking at the dismissal papers personally, or by contacting the clerk of the issuing court,” Mathias wrote. “This is especially true of a man who had just been convicted and sentenced for D felony criminal confinement.”
In his dissent, Judge John Baker disputed that Chavers knowingly violated the order of protection. He pointed out the confusion Cushenberry had between the orders from the two courts and the confusion of the arresting officer.
“Under these circumstances, I cannot conclude that there was sufficient evidence to convict Chavers,” Baker wrote. “He was not with Cushenberry when she tried to get the no contact order vacated, and an average person could be easily mistaken regarding the exact superior court number where he or she needed to go to get a no contact vacated, especially in a county as large as Marion.”
Civil Plenary – Due Process/Equal Protection/Three Strikes
Natalie Medley v. Bruce Lemmon, Julie Stout, Pam Ferguson, Stacey Milner, Sherry White, L.A. Vannatta, Mike Pavese, Virginia McCullough
The Indiana Court of Appeals quickly affirmed the dismissal of most of a prisoner’s claims regarding violations under Indiana statute or the state and federal constitutions, but found her First Amendment retaliation claims against several Department of Correction employees should not have been dismissed by the trial court.
Natalie Medley brought her lawsuit against the DOC employees – some who worked at the Rockville Correctional facility and some who reviewed her grievances.
Medley’s visitation privileges were first modified to no-contact for six months after she was found to have violated prison rules by fleeing or resisting prison staff. The no-contact order was extended for another year after she was caught in the bathroom hugging another inmate in an allegedly sexual manner. The restrictions were imposed by a DOC rule – referred to a “three-strikes rule” – that would permanently restrict certain visitation after the third offense of either fleeing from staff or engaging in sexual conduct.
After filing her grievances, Medley was transferred for several months to the Indiana Women’s Prison before returning to Rockville. Her visitation restrictions have since expired. Medley then brought her civil rights complaint, alleging violations of Indiana law and the state and federal constitutions, as well as that she was retaliated against for filing her grievances.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all of Medley’s claims related to alleged violations of the Indiana Code and the Indiana Constitution. The trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction regarding the claims arising under I.C. 11-11-5-4 and 11-11-3-9.
The judges also affirmed the dismissal of Medley’s Due Process and Equal Protection claims under the United States Constitution, as well as her claim that the “three strikes” policy infringes upon her First Amendment “right of association.” She failed to state a claim that the policy, as applied to hers and others found to have committed sex-related offense, violates Article 1, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution.
But they did allow her suit to continue regarding her claims of retaliation against the DOC employees at the Rockville facility.
“We conclude that if prison officials in fact decided to exercise their discretion so as to punish Medley more harshly by revoking her contact visitation privileges and to transfer her to IWP in retaliation for her protected activity and they would not have done so if she had not engaged in that activity, it would be sufficient to state a First Amendment retaliation claim,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote.
Civil Tort – Wrongful Death
Matthew Longest, Deceased, by Robert Longest, Adm. & Parent of Matthew Longest, & Robert Longest, Jr. Adm. of Maribel Longest, Deceased v. Lisa M. Sledge, minor & Roger Brown & Donna Sledge
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of the defendants on two parents’ claims under the Child Wrongful Death Statute regarding their 21-year-old son who died in a car accident. The appellate court found a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the informal apprenticeship the son was participating in at the time of his death would be considered a vocational program under the CWDS.
Matthew Longest and his father Robert were involved in a car accident in 1998 with Lisa Sledge, resulting in Matthew Longest’s death and injuries to Robert Longest. The father, his wife Maribel – who is now deceased – and the son’s estate sued Sledge under the Child Wrongful Death Statute and the General Wrongful Death Statute, as well as sued for the father’s injuries and the mother’s loss of consortium. At the time of his death, Matthew Longest was studying under his father to be a journeyman mason through an informal, non-union apprentice.
The defendants sought partial summary judgment that the parents’ claims under the GWDS were limited to funeral, medical and administrative expenses because they were not their son’s dependent next of kin. The defendants also argued that Matthew Longest wasn’t a child under the CWDS because he wasn’t enrolled in a vocational program as required under the statute. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the defendants on these issues.
The Court of Appeals reversed regarding the claims under the CWDS, rejecting the defendants’ argument that Matthew Longest had to be enrolled in a formal program that incorporated some component of traditional classroom instruction. Thus, there is a question as to whether the son is considered a child under the CWDS.
The judges affirmed the ruling in favor of the defendants that Matthew Longest’s parents weren’t his dependent next of kin. The parents were unable to prove that although the son was living at home and paying rent to his parents, as well as performing household chores, this qualified as even a partial dependency on him by the parents. The COA concluded the son’s actions were the sort of kindness one expected of a son living under his parents’ roof.
The judges also affirmed the trial court’s decision to reduce the attorney fees awarded to the Longests to one-fourth of the total amount performed for the four claims they brought, as attorney fees were only awardable to the estate of Matthew Longest on its claim.
Miscellaneous – Tax Sale/Surplus
Auditor of Owen County and Treasurer of Owen County v. Asset Recovery, Inc.
An Owen Circuit judge erred by granting a Colorado company’s petition to claim surplus funds from the tax sale of property belonging to Ora and Leafie Chambers, the Court of Appeals ruled. The couple signed an agreement that transferred their right of the surplus funds from the sale of their property to Asset Recovery Inc.
The Owen County auditor and treasurer appealed the trial court’s grant of the company’s petition for release of the surplus funds. The purchaser of the Chamberses’ property paid more than the amount required to fulfill the outstanding tax obligations, resulting in surplus of nearly $7,500. The county officials claimed that Indiana Code 6-1.1-24-7.5 invalidates the bill of sale and assignment issued to Asset Recovery.
Under the agreement, the couple would receive nearly $4,500 and Asset Recovery would receive the remainder of the surplus.
The COA found the agreement to be invalid under the statute because it has the primary purpose of paying compensation to recover money deposited in a tax sale surplus fund with respect to property that has been the subject of a tax sale and requires payment of compensation of more than 10 percent of the amount to be collected from the tax sale surplus fund. Asset Recovery would receive 40 percent of the total amount collected from the surplus fund, but is limited to just 10 percent under the law.
“Moreover, as a matter of public policy, the statute is designed to protect the citizens of our state and to regulate the activities of property locator services whose primary purpose is to locate money deposited in tax sale surplus funds by capping the fees at 10 percent of the total amount collected from the surplus fund,” Senior Judge Betty Barteau wrote. “Certainly, elderly property owners are a particular group of the population to be protected by this statute as their vulnerability is often preyed upon. Therefore, it would be error for us to ignore the spirit and objectives of Indiana Code section 6-1.1-24-7.5 by allowing Asset Recovery to be compensated for the recovery of the funds pursuant to the terms of its agreement with the Chamberses.”
Civil Plenary – Property Appraisal/County Clerk
Twin Lakes Regional Sewer District v. Robert W. Teumer and Paula K. Teumer
The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the White Circuit Court clerk to refund the thousands of dollars a sewer district overpaid in damages for easements on a couple’s property to construct sewers. The appellate court held that the trial court improperly admitted the court-appointed appraisal report.
Twin Lakes Regional Sewer District filed a complaint for appropriation of easement for two permanent sewer easements and two temporary construction ones on two plots of land owned by Robert and Paula Teumer. The couple appeared pro se. The trial court appointed three appraisers to assess the damages to which the Teumers were entitled; the appraisal said the couple was owed $5,434. Twin Lakes paid it to the clerk and challenged the appraisers’ report. The clerk sent the money to the Teumers three days later by error.
The court ultimately decided the Teumers were owed just $5,000 and ordered the clerk to refund $434. The sewer district appealed, claiming the judge was improperly influenced by the Teumers because they appeared pro se and that judicial notice was an improper means for admitting the court-appointed appraisers’ report.
The trial court may not admit evidence on its own motion where it would not otherwise be able to do so, in order to not “hold it against” a pro se party, as the judge said in this case, Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote. Pro se litigants are to be held to the same legal standards as licensed attorneys. In addition, judicial notice was not an appropriate avenue for admission of the appraisers’ report because the amount of damages was in dispute. Twin Lakes introduced an appraisal that valued the damages at just $950.
There is insufficient evidence to support the $5,000 award to the Teumers because the court-appointed appraisal report was improperly judicially noticed. The report also had several other problems, including that it makes several claims to be a fee-simple appraisal and not an easement take.
Because the only other evidence admitted regarding damages was the report by Twin Lakes’ appraiser valuing the damages at $950, and whose testimony was uncontroverted, the judges ordered the $950 judgment in favor of the Teumers. The clerk is responsible for refunding the overpayment to Twin Lakes. The clerk may then try to recover the overpayment from the Teumers, Robb pointed out, because the money should still be in the hands of the clerk.
Civil Plenary – Breach of Contract/Implied Warranty
Gared Holdings, LLC v. Best Bolt Products, Inc.
Finding the trial court shouldn’t have granted summary judgment in favor of a distributor on a buyer’s claim of breach of implied warranty of merchantability regarding pulleys provided by the distributor, the Indiana Court of Appeals remanded to the trial court to take another look at the issue.
Gared Holdings LLC decided to buy pulleys for basketball goals it manufactures from Best Bolt Products Inc. after it had some issues with its current supplier of the pulleys and learned the price of the pulleys would increase. Best Bolt is a distributor of bolts, screws and miscellaneous hardware products, but had never sold pulleys. Gared did not specify to Best Bolt that the pulleys need to have lubricated bushing in order to reduce friction. Best Bolt sourced the pulleys from a manufacturer in China, which did not include the lubricated bushing.
After purchasing two orders of pulleys from Best Bolt, Gared discovered that the pulleys used on its basketball goals were failing sooner than they should. That’s when the company learned the pulleys did not have the lubricated bushing.
It sued Best Bolt alleging breach of contract, breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. Best Bolt countersued seeking payment on another order of pulleys and an order of clevis pins that Gared refused to accept.
The trial court ruled in favor of Best Bolt on Gared’s claims and on its counterclaim.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, agreeing with the trial court that the parties’ contract did not require Best Bolt to replicate the pulley samples that Gared provided, which contained lubricated bushing. Gared had indicated to Best Bolt that it was unhappy with some of the design of the previous pulleys.
The COA also affirmed summary judgment on the breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The evidence showed that Gared was aware the pulleys should have a lubricated bushing and simply assumed that Best Bolt would include one in its design.
But on the issue of warranty of merchantability, the judges reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact. The trial court concluded that it didn’t apply to Best Bolt because it didn’t make the pulleys; that it was a distributor; and had made only one sale.
“We conclude that the fact that Best Bolt was not a manufacturer is not relevant to the issue of whether it was a merchant. Also, the undisputed evidence shows that Best Bolt made two sales of pulleys and was willing to continue selling pulleys. We conclude that these facts indicate that Best Bolt is a merchant with a relatively new product rather than a non-merchant seller making an isolated sale,” Judge Terry Crone wrote.
On remand, the trial court may also have to reconsider its ruling on Best Bolt’s counterclaim, depending on how it rules on the merchantability issue.
Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote a concurring opinion in which she dissented regarding the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose claim.
“Gared gave Best Bolt a sample pulley, and although Gared did not want an exact replica of that pulley because they were having quality issues with the cable separating and jamming between parts of the pulley, there were no quality issues with the lubricated bushing and Best Bolt, offering to procure a suitable replacement, held itself out to have the ability to judge what would be suitable,” she wrote.
Domestic Relation – Custody
Kevin C. Stone v. Jennifer M. Stone
A trial court may refuse to approve a settlement agreement entered into by parents regarding custody of minor children, the Indiana Court of Appeals pointed out, but in this case, the court erred by not granting the father’s motion for a continuance regarding his mental health evaluation.
The judges ordered a new hearing on custody of M.S., the daughter of Kevin and Jennifer Stone. The two entered into a settlement agreement regarding custody and division of marital property and asked the court to approve it. But the judge decided not to approve the portion regarding custody, citing concerns about Kevin Stone’s mental health. He made threats to Jennifer Stone after the divorce was filed and communicated with her family, her neighbors and M.S.’s teacher that Jennifer Stone was a fraud, thief and liar. He also refused to communicate with her unless through their child.
Kevin Stone sought three continuances of the hearing on the custody issue so he could hire counsel and obtain a mental health evaluation that the judge ordered. But the judge denied his motions and ruled that Jennifer Stone should have sole custody of M.S., with Kevin Stone having supervised parenting time. The judge noted that she would consider the results of the evaluation at a later hearing. The evaluation found no reason that Kevin Stone shouldn’t have some custody of his child.
The Court of Appeals affirmed that the trial judge could reject the parties’ settlement agreement regarding child custody. The judges pointed to statements made by Kevin Stone that he gave up the marital residence so that he could have joint legal and physical custody of M.S. This is why courts must review agreements on child custody, to ensure children aren’t being used as bargaining chips, Judge Michael Barnes wrote.
“If a party is having second thoughts about the propriety of a child custody agreement, we do not see why a trial court should be prohibited from taking such reluctance into consideration when deciding how thoroughly to examine whether the agreement suits the child’s best interests, which is the ‘overriding’ concern in any dissolution where children are involved — a concern that trumps the interest in promoting the settlement of disputes,” he wrote.
But the judge abused her discretion in denying the continuance relating to Kevin Stone’s mental health evaluation. The judge had concerns about his mental health regarding custody and there was no evidence or testimony to support the findings made by the judge. A continuance wouldn’t prejudice Jennifer Stone, so the judges ordered a new hearing on custody.
The COA also reversed the portion of the order that Kevin Stone pay $5,000 in attorney fees to Jennifer Stone.•