7th Circuit Courtof Appeals
Civil – Age Discrimination/Employment
John W. Mullin II v. Temco Machinery Inc.
The reasons a company gave for firing its most productive salesman – who also happened to be its oldest – raise potential credibility issues, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The judges decided the salesman’s age discrimination lawsuit should proceed to a jury.
The appellate court reversed summary judgment in favor of Temco Machinery Inc., which makes custom fire trucks and other rescue equipment, on John Mullin’s lawsuit. Mullin was 56 when the company fired him because, according to the CEO, “we’re paying you too much for your sales.” The company also claimed that his sales performance had declined and he didn’t show up at events with clients. Mullin had received the company’s Salesman of the Year awards the two years prior to his firing.
Just days after he and another salesman in his 50s were fired, Temco hired two inexperienced salesman in their 20s.
The District Court granted Temco’s motion for summary judgment on Mullin’s suit alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
“A reasonable jury could conclude that Temco fired Mullin because of his age,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote. “Mullin has put forth ample circumstantial evidence, including examples of suspicious timing and ambiguous statements. Moreover, each of Temco’s alleged reasons for firing Mullin is either genuinely contested, seemingly inaccurate, or both.”
Flaum pointed to the CEO’s claims that Mullin didn’t attend an event hosted by a fire department or show up at work to give a tour to a client. But Mullin refuted those claims with testimony from individuals that he was at the fire department event and he was present and gave the tour to the client.
Although some of the incidents Mullin points to, standing alone, would not suffice for Mullin to survive summary judgment, when considered together, “they point to a string of questionable conduct, from the suspicious timing of personnel decisions to ambiguous statements about age to multiple seemingly inaccurate allegations,” Flaum wrote.
The case is remanded for further proceedings.
Indiana Tax Court
Tax – Burden-Shifting Rule
Douglas G. Kildsig v. Warrick County Assessor
A Warrick County man fighting the 2009 tax year assessment of his land received only a partial victory in the Indiana Tax Court. The validity of his 2009 assessment will stand.
Douglas G. Kildsig owned 12.648 acres in the county, which included his residence, two pole barns, a lake and 11 acres of woods. The property was assessed at $192,000. Kildsig appealed, claiming because the 2009 assessment was 5 percent higher than his 2008 assessment, the assessor had to establish the validity of this 2009 assessment under I.C. 6-1.1-15-1(p). He also argued his assessment was incorrect because the 11 acres were improperly classified as residential excess acreage rather than agricultural land. He claimed he grew trees on the land to use as firewood to heat his residence, and his neighbor’s adjacent land was classified as agricultural.
The Indiana Board of Tax Review held that the burden-shifting rule at issue didn’t apply to its proceedings and that the land was properly classified. Tax Judge Martha Wentworth reversed with respect to the burden-shifting rule determination, noting a recent decision that the rule applies throughout the entire appeals process, not just the initial proceedings.
Wentworth also held that substantial evidence presented by the assessor supports the classification of residential excess acreage for the 2009 tax year. She claimed because Kildsig hunted in the wooded area and used its timber to heat his home, he used the land for recreational and residential purposes. Also, the adjacent land was used by his neighbor as part of an income-producing farm. Finally, she pointed out that Kildsig’s land had been incorrectly classified as agricultural land for years and she informed him several years before the 2009 assessment that his land, and other area properties that were misclassified, would be switched to the correct classifications at the same time.
Indiana Court of Appeals
Civil Tort – Negligence/Standard of Care
Katherine Chaffins and Roger Chaffins Sr. v. Clint Kauffman, M.D.; Family and Women’s Health Services; and Pulaski County Memorial Hospital
A northern Indiana court inappropriately granted summary judgment in favor of a doctor and medical practice defending a suit brought by a patient who claimed negligence after a colonoscopy, a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
Katherine Chaffins claimed severe pain after a procedure and that she was improperly released from the hospital, after which her pain continued until she returned and was diagnosed with a perforated colon that required surgery.
The appeals panel majority wrote that the Chaffinses conceded there was no evidence to support the opinion that the doctor misperformed the procedure resulting in the perforation, but there were issues making summary judgment inappropriate.
The majority partially reinstated a malpractice claim, finding the plaintiffs presented “sufficient evidence to negate the opinion of the medical review panel, thereby establishing a genuine issue of material fact.” The majority granted a limited reversal of Pulaski Superior Judge Patrick Blankenship’s grant of summary judgment. Blankenship relied on the medical review panel’s finding that the defendants did not fail to meet the applicable standard of care.
“What remains is the Chaffinses’ claim that the Defendants’ alleged negligence caused Katherine to suffer twelve hours of prolonged pain. At oral argument, the Defendants conceded that prolonged pain was contemplated by the ‘physical injuries’ allegation in the Chaffinses’ complaint. Accordingly, we conclude that (defendants) failed to make a prima facie showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to causation. Summary judgment in favor of Dr. Kauffman and the Hospital was inappropriate,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote in the majority opinion joined by Judge Patricia Riley.
Judge Elaine Brown dissented, saying she would affirm summary judgment, noting the doctor relied on his nurse to inform him of Chaffins’ pain after the colonoscopy, which even the defendants’ expert before the review board acknowledged wasn’t inappropriate. Chaffins also was advised to return to the hospital if pain persisted.
“There is no designated evidence to show that the (dismissal) instructions deviated from the standard of care appropriate to Dr. Kauffman and Family and Women’s Health Services,” Brown wrote.
Criminal – Complaint Amendment/Habitual Offender
Geroge A. Nunley v. State of Indiana
A habitual offender enhancement for a man convicted of robbery cannot stand because the state amended the underlying charges after a jury was empaneled, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
George Nunley was convicted of Class C felony robbery and sentenced to eight years in prison by a Clark Circuit jury for stealing DVDs from a Rite-Aid drugstore. The jury enhanced Nunley’s sentence by adding 12 years when he was found to be a habitual offender.
But a day after the jury had been seated, the state sought to amend the prior charges against Nunley that it presented to underlie a habitual offender finding, and Judge Daniel Moore permitted the amended charges over Nunley’s objection.
The appellate panel found ample evidence supporting Nunley’s robbery conviction but reversed the habitual offender finding, remanding to the trial court to correct his sentence accordingly.
“The amendment here was proposed after the commencement of trial and it prejudiced Nunley’s substantial rights,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote for the panel that also included judges James Kirsch and Patricia Riley.
“Additionally, the State, commendably, admitted at the time of the proposed amendment that there was no good cause for the amendment. The convictions that were proposed to be added were all from that same court, and so were available to the State long before trial began and it was apparently simple oversight that led to the listing of the wrong convictions on the original information and a failure to catch the mistake before trial began.
“We therefore conclude that no part of Indiana Code section 35-34-1-5 allowed the amendment that was proposed by the State here,” Robb wrote.
Civil Plenary – Employment Non-Compete Clause
Daniel B. Buffkin v. Glacier Group
Terms of a non-compete clause in an agreement between an IT recruiter and his former employer are unreasonable, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in throwing out an injunction that barred the recruiter from similar employment.
The appellate panel reversed and remanded an order from Tippecanoe Circuit Judge Donald L. Daniel granting a preliminary injunction for a West Lafayette firm that specializes in recruiting information technology executives.
In a 27-page opinion, Judge Elaine Brown reiterated the state’s general disfavor of non-compete clauses in employment contracts, the second such opinion handed down by the appeals panel in recent days. Glacier Group won a preliminary injunction from the trial court that barred Daniel Buffkin, a contract recruiter who had been terminated, from recruiting a range of IT professionals for any company with offices in the United States.
Terms of the non-compete clause are “certainly excessive to protect Glacier’s legitimate interests,” Brown wrote in the opinion joined by judges Edward Najam and Paul Mathias.
“Based upon the language of the Agreement and the record, and keeping in mind that non-competition agreements are strictly construed against the employer … we conclude that Paragraph 6 of the Agreement, to the extent that it protects a legitimate interest of Glacier, is unreasonable in terms of the activities it prohibits and its geographic restraints. Accordingly, the non-competition covenant in the Agreement was unenforceable,” Brown wrote.
“Glacier failed to meet its burden of showing a reasonable likelihood of success at trial. As a result, the court erred in granting its request for a preliminary injunction.”
Previously, the same panel ruled that summary judgment was erroneously granted in favor of a former employer that sought to exercise the non-compete clause in the contract of a former airline mechanic who went to work for another company.
Civil Plenary – Negligent Supervision/Tortious Interference
The Estate of Richard A. Mayer, and Spangler, Jennings & Dougherty v. Lax, Inc., and David Lasco
Litigation that has outlived an attorney who filed a counterclaim accusing a northwest Indiana construction company of racketeering, among other things, still could cost the late lawyer’s former firm.
Judge Michael Barnes authored a 46-page opinion that reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded multiple rulings of Jasper Circuit Judge John D. Potter. Original litigation between the parties dates to the 1990s.
Attorney Richard A. Mayer died in 2008, but he had filed a claim against Lax Inc. and David Lasco that resulted in Lax and Lasco claiming defamation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, tortious interference with a contract and tortious interference with a business relationship against Mayer and his former law firm. Lax and Lasco also claimed negligent supervision and/or retention of Mayer by his firm at the time.
The trial court granted the estate summary judgment on the defamation and malicious prosecution claims and denied relief from the other claims. Mayer’s former firm, Spangler Jennings & Dougherty, was denied summary judgment on those claims at the trial court.
While the panel ruled in favor of the estate and the law firm on most claims, it found some contained genuine issues of material fact for which summary judgment would be improper.
“We reverse the denial of summary judgment to the Estate and Spangler Jennings on the claims for negligent supervision and/or retention, tortious interference with a business relationship, and tortious interference with a contract, and direct that summary judgment be entered in the Estate’s and Spangler Jennings’s favor on those claims,” Barnes wrote.
“We reverse the denial of summary judgment to Spangler Jennings on the defamation claim and direct that summary judgment be entered in its favor on that claim. We also reverse the denial of summary judgment to the Estate regarding Lax and Lasco’s seeking of punitive damages against it and direct that summary judgment be entered in favor of the Estate on that claim. We affirm the granting of summary judgment in the Estate’s favor on the defamation and malicious prosecution claims,” the court held.
“We affirm the denial of summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim against Spangler Jennings and the denial of summary judgment on the abuse of process claim as to both the Estate and Spangler Jennings. We also affirm the denial of summary judgment in favor of Spangler Jennings on the punitive damages issue. We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The opinion joined by judges Mark Bailey and Edward Najam held that absolute privilege covered statements Mayer made in his counterclaim, but that principle doesn’t preclude the claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
The court also found authority from multiple states that helped shape its holding on liability of a firm for actions of an agent who since has died, where laws forbid actions against the estate for certain claims including defamation.
“In light of the great weight of authority, and in effecting the policy favoring survival of actions when possible, we hold that termination of a cause of action against an alleged agent-tortfeasor because of death does not require termination of a cause of action against the agent’s principal. Such termination does not reflect upon the merits of the case. We see no indication in the Survival Statute that our legislature intended to permit employers or other principals to avoid liability for their employee or agent’s misconduct simply because of the employee or agent’s death.”
Barnes wrote that the trial court also erred in ruling that Lax and Lasco could attempt to recover punitive damages from Mayer’s estate.
Juvenile – Termination of Parental Relationship
In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: N.Q., Je.Q., Ja.Q., L.Q., Minor Children, T.Q., Mother, and A.Q., Father v. Indiana Department of Child Services
The Indiana Court of Appeals sharply rebuked a trial court as having “committed clear error” by relying on old evidence and testimony in terminating a Vanderburgh County couple’s parental rights.
In July 2011, the trial court issued an order granting termination petitions filed by the Indiana Department of Child Services. However, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings because the four minor children had not been removed from the parents for at least six months under a dispositional decree as required by Indiana Code 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(A)(i).
DCS filed a second petition in May 2012. Over the objection of the parents, the trial court admitted the transcript and exhibits of the previous termination hearing. Again, the lower court terminated the parent-child relationship.
The Court of Appeals reversed the second termination order.
It faulted the trial court’s ruling as based primarily on the evidence presented at the first termination hearing even when the findings were directly contradicted by the parents and not refuted by DCS at the second termination hearing.
“Moreover, it was error for the court to issue its order which did not adequately consider the evidence presented by Parents of their current conditions, including Parents’ new income and their ability to keep current on their bills and maintain a clean residence,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the court. “Indeed, the court also failed to consider the lack of evidence to the contrary presented by DCS, despite the fact that it was DCS’s burden to prove its case by a heightened ‘clear and convincing’ standard.”
Criminal – Drugs/Public Intoxication
David Holbert v. State of Indiana
Four criteria added to the state’s public intoxication statute in 2012 presented the Indiana Court of Appeals with a question of first impression when it considered a man’s arrest for being drunk in a public place.
David Holbert was stopped by police after a neighbor observed his suspicious behavior and called 9-1-1. Officers discovered a baggie of marijuana and noted his eyes were glassy and bloodshot, he smelled of alcohol, his speech was slow and slurred, and he walked unsteadily.
Subsequently, the state charged Holbert with possession of marijuana, as a Class A misdemeanor, and public intoxication, as a Class B misdemeanor.
Holbert argued the state failed to present sufficient evidence to support his conviction for public intoxication. In 2012, the Indiana General Assembly amended the public intoxication statute, Indiana Code 7.1-5-1-3, by adding four conditions that clarify when drunkenness becomes a Class B misdemeanor.
These criteria are the endangerment of the individual’s life; the endangerment of the life of another person; breaching the peace or in imminent danger of breaching the peace; or harassing, annoying or alarming another person.
Holbert asserted he did not meet any of the four criteria while in a public place and therefore could not be convicted of public intoxication.
The Court of Appeals agreed. The court reversed Holbert’s conviction, finding no evidence that he engaged in any of the four listed criteria.
Domestic Relation – Custody Order Modification/Sports
In Re: the Marriage of L.C. v. T.M.
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a mother’s request to modify a custody order entered in 2007 when her children were in grade school, finding their participation in travel soccer leagues and the distance between the parents’ homes warrants a change.
The court also noted how the guardian ad litem on the case believed if the custody arrangement wasn’t modified, it would “irreparably harm” the father’s relationship with his two children.
The arrangement in place between mother L.C. and father T.M. had the children spending Mondays, Tuesdays and alternate weekends with their father in Mooresville. The mother lived in Carmel, where the now teens are enrolled in school and play in travel soccer leagues. Also as part of the custody order, mother is to enroll the children in spring sports and father to enroll them in fall sports.
L.C. signed her son up for travel soccer in the spring of 2012; her daughter was already playing on Carmel’s travel team. She sought to modify the physical custody arrangement to better accommodate the children’s schedules, travel distance and difficulties the kids had when staying with their father. They felt they were treated worse than their step-siblings.
The trial court ruled the mother’s enrollment of her son in the travel league that lasted an entire year violated the custody arrangement that mother enroll the children in spring sports and father enroll them in fall sports. It also held she didn’t prove a substantial change had occurred to warrant modification.
“In our view, the trial court’s determination that the parties should remain bound to their shared physical custody arrangement, despite the intervening changes that affect the children’s welfare and best interest, cannot stand,” Judge John Baker wrote. The judges remanded for an order to be entered based on the evidence presented that modifies the custody arrangement in accordance with the children’s best interests.
The appellate court also noted it was mindful of the recent Indiana Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. J.A.C., 977 N.E.2d 951, 956 (Ind. 2012), that admonishes against appellate reversal of custody orders and reminds that great deference should be afforded to trial courts in custody matters. But, Baker wrote, the court doesn’t believe that the rationale in the opinion stands for the idea that an appellate court is unable to reverse decisions that do not serve the best interests of the children and promote stability.
Civil Collection – Consulting Services/Negligence
Custom Radio Corp., Custom Management Group, Inc., Richard Yarger and Robert O’Brien v. Actuaries & Benefit Consultants, Inc., and John M. Fogle
Finding a genuine issue of material fact as to when a company’s owners could have discovered that their plans investing in cash value life insurance were actually taxable, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of the consultant who advised the company’s owners to invest in those plans.
Richard Yarger and Robert O’Brien, owners and operators of Custom Radio Corp. and sole employees of Custom Management Group, appealed summary judgment in favor of Actuaries & Benefit Consultants Inc. and John Fogle. Fogle provided services to Yarger and O’Brien from 1995 to 2004, telling the men that their investments in two specific Welfare Benefit Plans would be tax-deductible.
The plans were designed to comply with 26 U.S.C. Section 419(A)(f)(6) so they would be tax-deductible, but in July 2003, the IRS issued final regulations with regard to that subsection that rendered Yarger’s and O’Brien’s plans noncompliant. As a result, their contributions were retroactively taxable. In February 2004, Fogle recommended that Custom Management switch to a single employer plan, which Custom Radio’s CPA handled.
After being audited by the IRS in March 2008, Yarger and O’Brien were found to owe nearly $750,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. They settled with the IRS to avoid penalties. In October 2010, after signing the settlement agreements, the two men sued Fogle and his company alleging negligent provision of consulting services and breach of oral contract.
The trial court granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, ruling the applicable statutes of limitations had expired.
Yarger and O’Brien argued that the statutes of limitations didn’t begin until they signed the agreements with the IRS because they didn’t know their damages, but the Court of Appeals found this argument to be misplaced. Their causes of action accrued and the statutes of limitation began to run on the date they knew or, through the exercise of ordinary diligence, could have discovered that their Welfare Benefit Plans were non-compliant with Subsection 419(A)(f)(6) and that their plan contributions were retroactively taxable.
The question is whether they could have discovered this by April 30, 2004. The parties dispute whether Fogle told Yarger there would be no adverse tax consequences if Custom Management switched to a single employer plan. Fogle also said he told Yarger in February 2004 that the IRS had issued final regulations with respect to the subsection in question, but Yarger testified he was unaware of the final regulations and didn’t understand what the terms “experience rated” and “listed transactions” used by Fogle meant until they were audited.
The case is remanded for further proceedings.
Criminal – Drugs/Possession
Dustin Jack Gifford v. State of Indiana
Despite the state’s attempt to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that its decision in a similar case was erroneous, the panel upheld precedent and found that a man’s possession of cold tablets and batteries is not proof he intended to manufacture methamphetamine.
The Court of Appeals overturned a Jennings County man’s conviction for Class D felony possession of chemical reagents or precursors with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance.
Dustin Jack Gifford was charged with intent to manufacture after police officers pulled him over and found two boxes of pseudoephedrine and lithium batteries hidden in his car. A friend who accompanied Gifford on the shopping spree told law enforcement their plan was to sell or trade the products for a “half gram of meth.”
On appeal, Gifford asserted the evidence was insufficient to prove he was going to make methamphetamine.
The state conceded in Prater v. State, 922 N.E.2d 746, 749 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), the Court of Appeals held that the language of the statute requires proof that the defendant who possesses the drug-making ingredients must also have the “personal intent to manufacture methamphetamine.” The Court of Appeals held the plain language of the statute is clear and declined the state’s invitation to revisit the issue.
Civil Tort – Negligence/Summary Judgement
John Einhorn and Roxanne Einhorn v. Scott Johnson, Gretchen Johnson, Purdue University Board of Trustees, et al.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the owners of a horse that trampled a man after getting loose at the Marshall County 4-H Fairgrounds didn’t have reason to know the horse had any dangerous propensities prior to the accident. The court affirmed summary judgment in a negligence lawsuit on the issue.
John Einhorn, president of the 4-H Marshall County Horse & Pony Advisory Committee, was injured after he was trampled by Clu, a horse owned by Scott and Gretchen Johnson. Their daughter was riding Clu in the practice arena at the fairgrounds when he was spooked and bucked several times, throwing her off. When trying to calm the horse down, he took off. Einhorn saw Clu on the run and ended up in the horse’s path. Einhorn sustained severe injuries.
Einhorn received nearly $80,000 in medical benefits from Purdue University’s workers’ compensation carrier; he was working as an unpaid volunteer at the fair. He and his wife sued the Johnsons, Purdue University and the county 4-H Fair Association, alleging negligence. Purdue and the fair association are equine activity sponsors under Indiana law.
The trial court granted Purdue’s motion to dismiss and summary judgment motions filed by the defendants. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Einhorns that John Einhorn was not Purdue’s employee, so he is not precluded from bringing the civil action against the university. He is not bound by the exclusivity provision of the Worker’s Compensation Act because he accepted medical payments from the school’s workers’ compensation carrier, Judge Edward Najam wrote.
But the judges agreed with the trial court that Purdue and the 4-H Fair Association are immune from liability under the Equine Activity Statute as a matter of law. The designated evidence shows Einhorn’s injuries stemmed from an inherent risk of equine activities. The judges also affirmed summary judgment for the Johnsons. Clu’s bucking under the circumstances isn’t evidence of a dangerous propensity as a matter of law and there’s no evidence he had ever shown a tendency to buck prior to the incident, so the Einhorns can’t show that the Johnsons breached a duty of care.
Criminal – Child Seduction
Robert Corbin v. State of Indiana
Although the Indiana Court of Appeals found a high school teacher’s behavior toward a 16-year-old female student to be “deplorable and immoral,” it overturned his convictions because his actions were not criminal under statute.
The Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Robert Corbin’s motion to dismiss the two counts of attempted child seduction filed against him. It also remanded with instructions to grant the motion.
“The behavior alleged in the charging information is deplorable and immoral, and our decision today should not be read in any way to condone Corbin’s conduct,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the court. “Yet, we are bound to narrowly construe criminal statutes in order to protect the constitutional rights of all our citizens.”
Corbin was charged after the student’s family members discovered explicit messages he sent to her Facebook account. The first count was for the messages he sent to her asking that she sexually satisfy him and sneak out of her house so he could come and pick her up. The second count was for the messages asking her that she send him explicit photographs.
On appeal, Corbin claimed the evidence was insufficient to support the charges.
The Court of Appeals examined Indiana Code 35-42-4-7 and pointed out that attempted child seduction requires the individual to engage in conduct that “constitutes a substantial step toward the commission of the crime.”
Noting that determining what comprises a “substantial step” is difficult, the Court of Appeals turned to Ward v. State, 528 N.E.2d 52, 55 (Ind. 1988). This case outlined a two-part test to apply when considering whether a solicitation constitutes an attempt.
Consequently, the Court of Appeals found Corbin’s requests were not solicitations under Ward because he was not in a position to immediately commit the crime. He sent the messages over the Internet and never acted upon them.
In regards to the charges in count two, the COA ruled that even though Corbin’s request for photographs was “extremely disturbing and morally reprehensible,” it was not criminal conduct as defined by the “plain language” of the statute.
Mental Health – Civil Contempt/Attorney Fees
In the Matter of Mental Health Actions for A.S., Sara Townsend
A nurse who made false allegations leading to the detention of a co-worker for mental health reasons will have to pay as ordered toward the woman’s attorney fees even though the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed an indirect civil contempt finding.
Sara Townsend appealed the indirect civil contempt finding imposed by Clark Circuit Judge Daniel Moore for lying on an application for emergency detention at a hospital regarding co-worker A.S. Townsend alleged A.S. said she was having marital problems and wanted to “end it all.”
A.S. was detained based on a signed statement from a physician who did not evaluate her. But when learning of her detention, several people brought to the attention of the judge that they did not believe A.S. should be kept in emergency detention. She was released. After an independent investigation, the trial court held a hearing and found Townsend to be in indirect civil contempt for willfully making false statements to the court through the emergency detention application. The court ordered Townsend to pay A.S.’s uninsured hospital bills resulting from the detention; $500 to the hospital; and $1,000 toward whatever attorney fees A.S. incurred as a result of the contempt hearing.
The Court of Appeals reversed the contempt finding, concluding “that a finding of civil contempt under I.C. § 34-47-3-1 must be premised upon an action that disobeys or in some other way impedes or is inconsistent with an existing court order or action. The detention warrant did not exist at the time Townsend completed the Application. In the absence of a court order or directive, there can be no disobedience thereof, which is the gravamen of a civil-contempt finding.”
This matter should have been pursued as an action for criminal contempt, Judge Ezra Friedlander pointed out. It’s up to the state on remand whether it wants to pursue a charge of direct criminal contempt.
The COA also upheld the order to reimburse A.S. and the hospital because such was a legitimate exercise of the court’s inherent power to impose sanctions.
Civil Tort – Legal Malpractice/Estate
Martha Ferguson, Anthony Schmitt, Rebecca Schmitt, Mary Meadows, et al. v. Berton O’Bryan
The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided on whether a legal malpractice lawsuit filed by third-party beneficiaries of a will against their relative’s attorney should proceed beyond summary judgment. The case hinged on the interpretation of the “known” requirement outlined in Walker v. Lawson.
Mary Linder, through a recommendation by her alma mater Marian College, hired Berton O’Bryan to change her will. Linder told O’Bryan she had a list of items she wanted to leave to various individuals, but the will did not name those people. Linder later filled in a form that O’Bryan gave her that spelled out what her relatives would receive, but it was not dated or signed.
After her death, the probate court investigated the list’s validity, but the relatives in question settled with Linder’s estate and agreed the list was invalid. Those relatives then filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against O’Bryan. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of O’Bryan on his argument he owed the relatives no duty because there’s no evidence that he had actual knowledge they were on the list in question or that they were the intended beneficiaries.
The judges had to decide whether O’Bryan’s duty to exercise ordinary care and skill in the preparation of the will extended to the relatives. The judges cited Walker, 526 N.E.2d 968, 968 (Ind. 1988), in support of their rulings.
“Relatives argue for purposes of the ‘know’ or ‘known’ elements, under Walker v. Lawson, it was enough that Mr. O’Bryan knew that [Linder] wanted to name specific people. We find this argument persuasive,” Judges Terry Crone and Chief Judge Margret Robb ruled in reversing summary judgment for O’Bryan. “Article II of Linder’s will conclusively establishes that O’Bryan knew that she intended to benefit third parties, whom she would list on a separate form that he provided to her. To hold that O’Bryan did not owe the Relatives a duty in this situation would immunize and thus encourage even more egregious acts of malpractice, to the detriment of innocent third-party beneficiaries.”
In his dissent, Judge Ezra Friedlander pointed out that the relatives were not named in the will, but just on the list, and Linder could have added a potentially limitless number of unknown individuals to the list.
“Under these circumstances, the rationale underlying the exception for known beneficiaries disappears, and imposing a duty would expose the drafting attorney to precisely the type of unlimited liability the privity rule and the exception set forth in Walker v. Lawson were designed to prevent. Accordingly, I do not believe the Relatives fall within the category of known third parties contemplated by our Supreme Court in Walker v. Lawson,” Friedlander wrote.
“Accordingly, I would hold, and indeed we have always held, that in order to qualify as a known third party, an intended beneficiary must be known and identified at the time the will is drafted. Because the list on which the Relatives were identified was not created until after the will was drafted, they clearly do not fall within this category.”•