7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Civil – Religious Display on Public Land
Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano v. City of Evansville, Ind.; Appeal of: West Side Christian Church
An Evansville church that sought to display multiple six-foot-tall crosses along the city’s public Riverfront cannot appeal the court order that prevents the city from allowing the display, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
West Side Christian Church sought a right of way permit from the city last spring to erect 31 plastic crosses decorated by children attending Bible school. The city’s legal counsel believed the display would be allowed as long as there was no “Jesus saves” language on the display. The city board of public works approved the display, but Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano filed a legal challenge in federal court.
The District Court ruled Evansville is permanently enjoined from permitting the cross display because it is an impermissible endorsement of religion that violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The city didn’t appeal, but the church did.
The 7th Circuit decided it didn’t need to address West Side’s arguments on appeal because it lacks standing to pursue the appeal. The District Court ruled the display violated Cabral’s and Tarsitano’s First Amendment rights and its entry of an injunction does not injure West Side in any way that the appeals court can redress, Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote.
If the court were to vacate the injunction, it would be up to Evansville as to whether to allow the church to display the crosses.
“That fact dooms West Side’s redressability argument because if were we to vacate the injunction, we could only speculate as to whether West Side’s injury would be redressed, and such speculation is not enough to support standing.
If West Side applies again for a permit and the city denies it, the church would then have standing to file a lawsuit and challenge the denial.
“We caution, however, that West Side’s road ahead might not necessarily get any easier if it ever attains standing to challenge the injunction. We question whether a reasonable observer would be put on notice that the ‘Cross the River’ display is strictly private speech given the sheer magnitude of a display that takes up four blocks and has two signs alerting citizens that it is a private display,” Williams wrote. “However, because that issue is not before us, we need not resolve it at this point.”
Civil – Disability Benefits
Gene Williams on behalf of Pamela J. Townsend v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sent a case back to the Social Security Administration after finding an administrative law judge’s decision that a woman was not totally disabled until Nov. 1, 2008, “deeply flawed.”
Pamela Townsend applied for Social Security Disability Insurance in 2003, claiming she had become incapable of full-time employment in May 2002 due to physical and psychiatric elements. She lived with her parents, and her father, Gene Williams, testified at two of her hearings as well as Townsend. The two did not testify at a third hearing held on the matter.
In January 2012, the administrative law judge decided that she did not become totally disabled until Nov. 1, 2008. Townsend died several months after the hearing and so Williams appealed the ALJ’s ruling partially adverse to his daughter’s claim. He wanted the date she became totally disabled pushed back to May 1, 2002. If the date she became totally disabled is earlier than June 30, 2006, the date on which Townsend ceased to be covered by SSDI, her father is entitled to his daughter’s disability insurance benefits from that date until the date of her death.
“As we – and other circuits – have emphasized repeatedly in reviewing denials of disability benefits by the Social Security Administration’s administrative law judges, the combined effects of the applicants impairments must be considered, including impairments that considered one by one are not disabling,” Judge Richard Posner wrote.
The ALJ made it clear in her decision that she thought Townsend’s “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her fibromyalgia symptoms … (were) not credible prior to November 1, 2008, to the extent that they are inconsistent with” her being able to work.
The 7th Circuit found the ALJ’s analysis deeply flawed, pointing out that the judge assessed Townsend’s credibility without asking any questions of her and her father even though they both were present at the third hearing.
“The need to hear what Townsend might say concerning her physical ailments was essential because the medical evidence was inconclusive,” Posner wrote.
The doctor on whom the ALJ relied so heavily had not testified that Townsend was exaggerating her physical symptoms, but rather that since they probably had not been caused by fibromyalgia she should have additional medical tests in order to determine the cause.
“The administrative law judge committed the further error … of ignoring the combined effect of Townsend’s ailments on her ability to work. She considered Townsend’s psychiatric problems and found them not to be disabling, and then considered her physical problems and found them not to be disabling either, but she ignored the possibility that the combination was disabling,” Posner wrote.
These errors require reversal and remand to the Social Security Administration for a redetermination of the date on which Townsend became totally disabled and thus eligible for disability insurance benefits.
Civil – Venue/Small Claims
Mark Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions LLC
More than eight months after Judge Richard Posner argued in a dissent that Newsom v. Friedman needs to be overruled, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals did just that in an en banc decision involving Marion County’s Township courts.
Posner and Judge David Hamilton authored the majority opinion, in which the court decided the correct interpretation of “judicial district or similar legal entity” under Section 1692i of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is the smallest geographic area that is relevant for determining venue in the court system where the case is filed. For Marion County Small Claims courts, the smallest area is the township.
This is opposite of what the 7th Circuit decided in Newsom, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996), in which a panel adopted a test based on details of court administration rather than on the applicable venue rules. The Circuit Court in Suesz not only reversed the court’s previous ruling which held that small claims cases could be brought in any Marion County Township Court, but it also overruled Newsom.
Med-1 Solutions filed a collection lawsuit against Mark Suesz in Pike Township, seeking to recover medical debt Suesz incurred from treatment in Lawrence Township. Suesz does not live in Pike Township. Suesz sued, seeking damages under the FDCPA, which requires debt collectors to bring the suit in the judicial district where the contract was signed or where the consumer resides. District Court Judge William Lawerence, citing Newsom, tossed Suesz’s lawsuit in March 2013.
“[I]n Newsom we relied on what was said to be the plain language of the statute, though the language is not plain at all when applied to the Marion County township courts,” Posner and Hamilton wrote. They adopted an approach that focuses on the state court venue rules faced by parties and lawyers, and the relevant geographic unit for applying those rules.
“This interpretation of the statutory term discourages abusive forum-shopping by debt collectors rather than enabling it,” the majority writes. They remanded for further proceedings on class certification and the merits of Suesz’s claim. The majority declined Med-1 Solutions request that Newsom be overruled only on a prospective basis.
Judge Diane Sykes concurred with Posner and Hamilton’s opinion, including the decision to overrule Newsom, but she noted she shares some of the concerns expressed by Judge Joel Flaum in his dissent, to which Judge Michael Kanne joined. They do not believe Newsom should be overturned.
“But instead of deferring to the state’s definition of its districts, the majority replaces congressional silence in §1692i with a purposive definition of judicial district that is of the majority’s own design. In doing so, the court federalizes the term ‘judicial district’ for the purposes of the FDCPA. I decline to join this decision because I believe the court’s rule seizes upon a general congressional purpose behind the FDCPA – protecting debtors from abusive collection practices – to craft a rule more exacting than Congress intended. A high-level statutory purpose is simply an insufficient justification for this stringent new rule,” Flaum wrote.
Kane also wrote a separate dissent, “While I am of the opinion that the judicial circuits themselves, and not any specific court within them, are the relevant ‘judicial districts’ in Indiana, I find Judge Flaum’s reasoned approach and his adherence to our Newsom decision much more persuasive than put forward by the majority.”
Indiana Supreme Court
Civil Tort – Personal Injury/Sports Venue
South Shore Baseball, LLC d/b/a Gary South Shore RailCats and Northwest Sports Venture, LLC v. Juanita DeJesus
A fan who suffered fractured facial bones and was blinded in one eye after she was struck by a foul ball at a Gary SouthShore Railcats baseball game may not proceed with a lawsuit against the team, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.
Justices reversed Lake Superior Judge Calvin Hawkins’ denial of a motion for summary judgment sought by the team. Hawkins granted the team’s request for an interlocutory appeal.
The ruling puts an end to litigation stemming from Juanita DeJesus’ injury that happened more than five years ago.
Justice Mark Massa wrote in a unanimous opinion that the court declined to find a special limited duty beyond the principles of premises liability that govern stadiums and franchises.
The court noted that the ticket, printed notices at the stadium and an announcer’s admonition to fans all alerted them that objects would leave the field of play.
The court’s ruling aligns with a prior Court of Appeals ruling that also found judgment in favor of the team was proper, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s contemporaneous ruling in Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011). There, the court ordered judgment in favor of a golf course after a woman driving a golf cart suffered injuries when she was struck in the face by a flying golf ball.
While finding for the team, the court declined amicus Indianapolis Indians’ request that the court adopt the so-called “Baseball Rule,” which generally states that baseball teams and ballparks that provide screening behind home plate have satisfied liability duties. DeJesus’ injury came as she sat in the stands just outside the protective screening behind home plate.
DeJesus’ claim fails as a matter of law, Massa wrote, “because she does not allege an increased risk of harm and cannot establish reliance. In her deposition, DeJesus testified she had seen foul balls enter the stands at RailCats games before. She even admitted she knew, when she was sitting in her seat, ‘there could be a chance that the ball could come that way.”’
Criminal – Resisting Law Enforcement/Fleeing
Keion Gaddie v. State of Indiana,
Donald Murdock v. State of Indiana
A man who walked away from police after they ordered him to stop was wrongly convicted of resisting law enforcement, the Indiana Supreme Court held in one of two cases that reviewed the statute.
“A person’s well-established freedom to walk away is … violated when that person is subjected to a statute that makes it a criminal offense to decline a police order to stop,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the court in Keion Gaddie v. State of Indiana.
“To hold that a citizen may be criminally prosecuted for fleeing after being ordered to stop by a law enforcement officer lacking reasonable suspicion or probable cause to command such an involuntary detention would undermine longstanding search and seizure precedent that establishes the principle that an individual has a right to ignore police and go about his business,” Dickson wrote.
Keion Gaddie was on his property when police responded to a nighttime disturbance involving a number of people. As police arrived and ordered everyone to the front yard of the property, Gaddie walked toward the back and kept walking as an officer identified himself and ordered him to stop.
Gaddie was convicted after a bench trial at which he testified that he had been preparing to leave before police arrived. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, and the Supreme Court agreed.
“To avoid conflict with the Fourth Amendment, Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1(a)(3), the statute defining the offense of Resisting Law Enforcement by fleeing after being ordered to stop must be construed to require that a law enforcement officer’s order to stop be based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” the court held.
“Under the facts and circumstances of this case, a reasonable trier of fact could not have found that the officer’s order to stop was based on such probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The evidence was thus insufficient to convict the defendant.”
Separately, the court applied its holding in Gaddie in another case as it sought to put to rest conflicts among various Court of Appeals opinions.
Justices affirmed the conviction under the same statute in Donald Murdock v. State of Indiana. In Murdock, an officer responded to a report of a suspect running away from another officer at nighttime, was “engaged in furtive and evasive activity in a high-crime area, was uncooperative, and matched the description of the suspect,” Dickson wrote.
“The evidence and its reasonable inferences clearly established that the defendant knowingly or intentionally fled from a law enforcement officer’s order to stop that was based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and thus committed the offense of Resisting Law Enforcement,” the court held.
Criminal – Plea Agreement/Conditions of Probation
Dexter Berry v. State of Indiana
A trial court went too far when it accepted a plea agreement then imposed a one-year term in work release as a condition of probation, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.
Dexter Berry entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty to a Class B felony burglary and several lesser offenses. Under the terms of the agreement, the court would impose a 10-year executed sentence and could require probation beyond the 10 years.
The court sentence Berry to a total of 15 years. Ten years were to be executed in prison and five years suspended with two of those years served on probation. Further, the court ordered Berry to spend the first year of his probation on work release.
After the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed by memorandum the decision, Berry sought transfer. The issue was whether the terms of his plea agreement gave the court the discretion to impose a restrictive placement as a condition of his probation.
The Indiana Supreme Court found Berry’s plea agreement leaves all aspects of the sentence to the discretion of the court. However, while Berry’s agreement grants the court the ability to determine where the defendant will serve his executed sentence, it is silent as to the court’s ability to impose any restrictive placement for probation.
“With no clear grant of such authority in the agreement itself, no indication that any of the parties understood the plea agreement to confer such discretion, and a specific provision that implies the absence of discretion over the placement of Defendant’s probation, we must conclude that the trial court lacked authority to impose a punitive placement for Defendant’s probation,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote.
Chief Justice Brent Dickson along with Justices Steven David and Mark Massa concurred. Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result.
Criminal – Public Intoxication
Tin Thang v. State of Indiana
The Indiana Supreme Court by a vote of 3-2 upheld a man’s Class B misdemeanor public intoxication conviction, with the dissenting justices concerned that the majority opinion “muddies the judicial water.”
Tin Thang was arrested in December 2012 on suspicion of public intox after an officer observed in him a gas station smelling of alcohol with bloodshot eyes. A car was in the station lot that was not there when the officer entered the gas station, and inside was only Thang, the officer and the attendant. The keys to the car were found on Thang and the car belonged to him.
Thang does not dispute that he was intoxicated in a public place, but he argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he endangered himself or anyone else. The justices granted transfer to address whether the proof of the endangerment element outlined in the statute for Class B misdemeanor public intox can be established by reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence. The justices answered that in the affirmative.
The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Brent Dickson, rejected Thang’s argument that Moore v. State, 634 N.E. 2d 825 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), prohibits a fact-finder from drawing an inference from circumstantial evidence that a defendant was not on a public street.
“In the present case, the undisputed evidence established the sudden presence of the defendant and his vehicle at a gas station, his intoxication, his possession of the car keys, and the absence of any other persons, thus necessitating removal of the car by towing. From these facts, it is a reasonable inference that the defendant had arrived at the gas station by driving his automobile on the public streets while intoxicated, thereby endangering his or another person’s life,” Dickson wrote.
In his dissent, Justice Steven David agreed that reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence could lead a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Thang drove his car to the gas station on a public street.
“But because I believe the relevant criminal statute requires the State to prove more than just this, and because I feel that it failed to do so, I cannot join the majority,” he wrote, keying in on the words “thereby endangering his or another person’s life” written in I.C. 7.1-5-1-3(a). Justice Robert Rucker joined David’s dissent.
Thang arrived at the gas station somehow, but did he drive safely and obey the traffic laws, David questioned, or did he swerve across a fog line or nearly drive into a telephone pole?
“The decision today effectively vitiates the endangerment element from the public intoxication statute under these circumstances, as the State need no longer present any evidence beyond the fact of the defendant’s intoxicated driving of a vehicle. Thang v. State will be the guidepost that affirms all such convictions on sufficient review.”
Indiana Court of Appeals
Civil Plenary – Demolition of Property/Impartial Decision-Maker
Hugo Torres v. City of Hammond and City of Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety
Two judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals believed that a Hammond resident didn’t have the benefit of an impartial decision-maker in the proceeding that ordered demolition of his property. They believed the city attorney, whose office prosecuted the case, couldn’t sit on the city board that conducted the hearing.
The city of Hammond declared a residence of Hugo Torres uninhabitable. The city conducted a hearing on the order, and the hearing board consisted of the city controller, the city engineer and the city attorney. They ordered the property demolished. The trial court affirmed.
Judges Melissa May and Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik reversed, finding Torres was deprived of his due process right to an impartial decision-maker when the Hammond city attorney served on the board at the hearing while an assistant city attorney represented Hammond. The judges cited City of Hammond v. State ex rel. Jefferson, 411 N.E.2d 152, 153 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980) in support of their decision.
Judge Patricia Riley dissented, writing she did not find Jefferson to be controlling. She believed Rynerson v. City of Franklin, 669 N.E.2d 964, 967 (Ind. 1996) provides guidance.
“Giving due consideration to the presumption of honesty, integrity, and conscientiousness, I find that the present situation is free from an appearance of impropriety as Torres fails to point to any evidence — besides the city attorney’s mere presence on the Board — establishing the city attorney’s actual bias or prejudice. Nor was there any actual bias or prejudice on the part of the two other participating members of the Board,” Riley wrote.
Estate – Transfer on Death Property Act
In re the Estate of Ruth M. Rupley, Charles A. Rupley v. Michael L. Rupley
The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed that a trial court erred in concluding a promissory note executed between a mother and son is an asset of the mother’s estate, although the panel was split as to why the court erred.
Charles Rupley executed the promissory note in 2006 with his mother, Ruth Rupley. Charles Rupley had borrowed $72,500 from his mother. She died in 2008 and 1st Source Bank, as successor personal representative, asked the trial court to determine whether the note balance transferred to Charles Rupley at his mother’s death, is an asset of her estate, or was forgiven by Ruth Rupley upon her death.
Charles Rupley argued the Indiana Transfer on Death Property Act applied retroactively to the note, so the transfer on death provision in the promissory note transferred it to him when his mother died. The trial court ordered the bank to include the note as an asset of the estate.
Judge Melissa May and Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik determined that the Act applies retroactively, citing language in it that says “transfer on death security, transfer on death securities account or pay on death account created before July 1, 2009.”
“We now turn to Ind. Code §32-17-14-4(d), which explains that a statutory transfer on death directive is accomplished in a form substantially similar to the following: 1) insert the name of the owner or owners; 2) insert transfer on death to, TOD, pay on death to, or POD, and insert the name of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Here, the promissory note includes the name of the owner, Ruth, and the beneficiary, Charles. It includes language directing the note is payable on death to Charles. Because the promissory note meets the statutory requirements of a pay on death account, the note should have transferred directly to Charles upon Ruth’s death. It is not an asset of Ruth’s estate, and the trial court erred in so concluding,” May wrote.
Judge Patricia Riley, although agreeing that the promissory note is not an asset of the estate, disagreed that the Transfer on Death Property Act retroactively applies in this case.
“Although the majority throughout its opinion characterizes the Note as a Promissory Note and the parties did not contest its legality, the majority, now by a sleight of hand, notes that actually, by its terms, the Promissory Note is a pay on death account. However, the Note cannot be both a Promissory Note and a pay on death account as that would lead to incongruous results within the statute — an outcome never intended by our Legislature. On the one hand, a promissory note, as property, is explicitly excluded from the retroactive application of the Act whereas a pay on death account falls within the limited retroactive exceptions. As its character was never disputed until the majority ‘re-termed’ it, I necessarily conclude that the retroactive character does not apply,” she wrote.
Domestic Relation – Modification of Custody/Relocation
Traci Nelson v. Tony Nelson
Although the trial court erred in concluding that a Johnson County mother did not relocate to South Carolina for legitimate reasons, the court correctly ordered her son to remain in Indiana with his father, the Indiana Court of Appeals held.
Traci Nelson, after being let go from her medical sales job, sought employment in South Carolina due to a non-compete clause in her previous job’s contract. She chose South Carolina because she had a job opportunity and family in that state. In 2010 she filed a notice with the court that she would move to South Carolina, and she made the move with her five-year-old son before the court approved.
Tony Nelson was awarded temporary custody in 2011 and then sole physical custody after a hearing in 2013. Traci Nelson was awarded parenting time. The trial court found her relocation was not made in good faith and the move is not in the best interest of the child.
The Court of Appeals held the lower court erred in concluding Traci Nelson didn’t move in good faith. It pointed to evidence she presented that she had many family members – including her parents – in South Carolina and that she would be able to help take care of her ailing mother. The judges also pointed to her attempts to start a new career in the state as a physical therapist.
But the trial court was correct in ordering their son to remain in Indiana with his father, the judges ruled. The 10-hour drive one-way would diminish the father-son bond, the boy had family in Indiana, and he wanted to live with his father. The trial court’s conclusion that the Relocation Statute factors disfavored relocation and merit a change in custody to father was not clearly erroneous, the COA ruled.
Civil Plenary – Land Use
Terry Weisheit Rental Properties, LLC v. David Grace, LLC and Dance Central Academy, LLC
Finding that the trial court erred in construing the provision of a plaintiff’s deed in a dispute over use of parking areas, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the finding of the existence of a prescriptive easement allowing dance academy customers to use portions of land owned by a neighboring company for ingress and egress from the academy’s property.
Issues arose when David Grace purchased two lots and leased the property next to Weisheit’s construction business to Dance Central Academy. The dance customers parked in the dance academy’s spaces as well as some spaces that belonged to parts of the lots owned by Weisheit. This led to conflicts between Weisheit and Dance Central’s owners and customers over the course of several months. Weisheit then parked a box truck just south of the property line, making it difficult for customers to park in front of the dance studio.
The parties went to court, where the judge ruled that a prescriptive easement existed as to all parties for the mutual use of plot 21a, owned by Grace, and plot 21b, owned by Weisheit. The trial court also ruled that the provision in Grace’s deed did not create an express easement as to use of plots 21b, 22 and 23 – owned by Weisheit. The court also denied Weisheit’s counterclaim for nuisance.
The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court erred as a matter of law in interpreting the deed provisions and finding them to be vague.
The judges noted how the previous owners of the land in question needed to use portions of the other’s land in order to receive deliveries involving big trucks. The 1981 deed provision established mutual benefits for the original owners, namely, the use of driving and parking areas that were divided in the 1981 conveyance of part of the land to the owner prior to Weisheit. It also includes language establishing mutual obligations for maintenance of those commonly used parts of the parking and driving areas and the party wall.
“None of this, we think, is vague,” wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey.
The judges construed the nature of the deed provisions and found they establish mutual obligations between the original grantor and grantee for use and maintenance of plots 20, 21a, 21b and 22 and require them to share the costs of maintenance for the parking and driving areas and the party wall. The deed provisions are covenants that the court found to be affirmative, and that the land use covenants run with the land and Grace and Weisheit alike may benefit from and are burdened by the deed provisions.
Small Claims – Landlord/Tenant Issues
Lindsay Washmuth and Kristopher Washmuth v. Johnny Wiles and Amy Wiles
The date a tenant provides her forwarding address to her landlord triggers the 45-day period the landlord has to deliver the itemized damages to the tenant, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
A small claims judge ordered landlords Lindsay and Kristopher Washmuth to return Johnny and Amy Wiles’ $1,500 security deposit, $800 in attorney fees and other costs after determining the Washmuths’ itemized statement of damages regarding the security deposit was not timely.
The Wileses rented a residence in Lapel from the Washmuths and moved out April 1, 2013, one day after their lease expired. The Wileses refused to provide a new address initially, directing their landlords on April 29, 2013, to send the itemized list to their attorney’s address.
The Wileses sued for return of their deposit. After receiving the Wileses’ new address on the small claims filing, the Washmuths mailed the damages list to them May 28, 2013, seeking more than $1,900 in damages and to keep the security deposit as well as money for unpaid utilities.
The small claims court found that the Wileses had provided the landlords with a permanent address – a P.O. Box in Lapel as well as the address of their attorney. As such, the judge ruled the itemized statement was not timely.
The Court of Appeals reversed, noting that the tenants didn’t provide a mailing address until April 29, which triggered the 45-days under statute the Washmuths had to deliver the itemized damages notice. The notices sent May 28 and June 8 were therefore timely.
“[W]e conclude that, if a tenant immediately provides a forwarding address upon termination of the rental agreement and delivery of possession, a landlord has forty-five days to deliver the itemized damages to the tenant. However, if the tenant fails to provide the forwarding address upon termination of the rental agreement and delivery of possession, … the landlord ‘is not liable… until supplied by the tenant with a mailing address to which to deliver the notice.’ The landlord’s obligation cannot begin to run until after the tenant has supplied a forwarding address. The landlord’s obligation to send the notice is tolled until it receives the forwarding address,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote.
Collections – Statute of Limitations/Collections
Robert Imbody v. Fifth Third Bank
A pro se litigant won a reversal at the Indiana Court of Appeals, which ruled a trial court erred when it ruled in favor of a bank seeking to collect after repossession of a vehicle.
Fifth Third Bank’s lawsuit against Robert Imbody was filed after the applicable six-year statute of limitations, the panel ruled, reversing judgment for the bank and ordering Marion Superior Judge David J. Dreyer to enter judgment in favor of Imbody.
Imbody purchased a vehicle with a loan from Fifth Third in July 2004, but monthly payments ceased in March 2006. In May of that year, the bank repossessed the vehicle, charged off the balance of $31,396, and sold the vehicle at auction.
Imbody agreed to make $100 monthly payments to the bank to satisfy a deficiency balance of just less than $15,000, but those payments stopped in February 2008.
The bank sued in June 2012 and the trial court ruled in its favor and also awarded prejudgment interest and attorney’s fees for a judgment of $24,939 plus court costs.
“The question presented on appeal is whether the Bank’s complaint is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. We hold that the Bank’s repossession of the collateral accelerated payment on the note, which triggered the six-year statute of limitations, and that the Bank’s complaint is time-barred” under I.C. § 34-11-2-9, Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel.
“The trial court erred when it concluded that the Bank’s complaint was timely filed. We reverse the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Bank and instruct the court to enter judgment in favor of Imbody,” the panel wrote.
Civil Plenary – Business Agreement/Statute of Limitations
Alan R. Brill, Business Management Consultants, LP f/k/a Brill Media Company, LP, and the Non-Debtor Companies v. Regent Communications, Inc., n/k/a Townsquare Media, Inc.
Nearly identical provisions in business agreements meant a media owner had to file his complaint against another communications company by the statute of limitations deadline in Virginia, not in Indiana.
In 2000 and 2002, Alan Brill, owner of radio stations and newspaper in medium markets including Evansville, signed confidentiality agreements with Regent Communications Inc. as part of the negotiations to sell his radio stations. Both contracts contain nearly identical choice of law language that the provisions will be interpreted under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Brill and Regent disputed the scope of the choice of law language when negotiations fell apart.
In August 2008, Brill filed a complaint against Regent and other defendants for breach of contract, fraud and additional acts of malfeasance. A month later, he filed an amended complaint. In January 2009, he filed a second amended complaint naming Regent as the sole defendant.
Regent responded in August 2010 by filing an Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss Brill’s second amended complaint. The company claimed Brill had filed after the Virginia five-year statute of limitations had expired.
The trial court denied the motion and Regent appealed.
Before the Indiana Court of Appeals, Brill argued the choice of law provision applied only to substantive law and that Indiana law applied to procedural issues. Therefore, he filed his second amended complaint well within the Indiana six-year statute of limitations.
Regents countered that Virginia law applied in both substantive and procedural matters.
The Court of Appeals agreed with Regent and reversed the denial of the motion to dismiss.
Pointing to OrbusNeich Med. Co. v. Boston Scientific Corp., 694 F. Supp. 2d 106 (D. Mass. 2010), the COA found the additional phrase in the Brill-Regent agreements indicated the parties’ intent that Virginia law governs both substantive and procedural issues.
Civil Plenary – Estate/Right of Survivorship
G. Kevin Powell v. Estate of Gary Powell
In a question of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that when a property is conveyed by the entirety, there is a presumption the grantor intended to convey the property with the right of survivorship. It does not matter if the individuals are not husband and wife.
Lawrence H. Powell conveyed real estate to his sons Kevin and Gary Powell by means of a warranty deed. It was conveyed to them as “tenants by the entireties.” Gary Powell died in March 2013, and his estate sought a ruling that the title to the real estate was held by the brothers as tenants in common. Kevin Powell counterclaimed, arguing that the deed created a joint tenancy with right of survivorship, meaning he is now the sole owner after his brother’s death.
The trial court ruled in favor of the estate.
Tenancy by the entirety can only exist between a husband and wife under the law, so Lawrence Powell couldn’t convey the land to his sons utilizing this ownership form. The question as to the legal effect of a conveyance of real estate by the entirety to two or more individuals who are not husband and wife is one of first impression in Indiana.
“The Estate’s argument begs the question; the argument’s conclusion is among its premises. That is, the Estate urges us to conclude that Lawrence intended to convey the land to his sons as tenants in common based in large part upon the presumption that such is what he intended to state in the deed when he in fact wrote something entirely different. The Estate compounds the logical fallacy in contending that we should not attempt to ferret out Lawrence’s intent, but instead focus only upon the language used in the deed – while at the same time urging us to disregard what Lawrence actually stated in the deed in favor of the presumption that he intended to state something else. This argument leaves us a bit perplexed, and unconvinced.”
The question in this case is whether the deed’s designation of Kevin and Gary Powell as “tenants by the entireties” manifests an intent to create an estate in joint tenancy. The judges believed that in specifying that Kevin and Gary Powell would take the property as “tenants by the entireties,” Lawrence Powell meant to convey the right of survivorship. The judges then cited cases from other states that have reached a similar conclusion.
“When a property is conveyed to individuals by the entirety or entireties, regardless of whether those individuals are husband and wife, a presumption arises that the grantor intended to convey the property with the right of survivorship,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote. “This, in turn, is sufficient to establish the intent to create an estate in joint tenancy with right of survivorship within the meaning of I.C. 32-17-2-1(c)(2).”
The judges remanded with instructions to grant Powell’s motion for summary judgment.
Juvenile – Theft/First Impression
Z.A. v. State of Indiana
In an issue of first impression involving the statutes defining Class D felony theft, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a teen’s adjudication of theft for removing a television that he and his mother purchased together from his mother’s home over her objection.
Mother M.A. put $185 and son Z.A. contributed $15 toward the purchase of a television that they considered jointly owned. One day, Z.A. decided to take the television from his mother’s house. She told him not to, but he did it, so she called police to report it as a theft.
Z.A. was charged with and adjudicated as committing Class D felony theft if committed by an adult. To prove theft, the state had to prove that Z.A. knowingly or intentionally exerted unauthorized control over the property of another person, with intent to deprive the other person of any part of its value or use. Indiana Code 35-31.5-2-253(b) provides that property is that “of another person” if the other person has a possessory or proprietary interest in it, even if an accused person also has an interest in that property.
The application of these statutes for a prosecution of theft of shared property is a question of first impression for the appellate court.
The state did not present any evidence that M.A. believed she had a controlling interest in the television or that the T.V. was to remain at her house at all times, the judges held. The state argued since the mother paid 93 percent of the purchase price for the television, she had a controlling interest in it.
“And the State’s reading of the relevant statutes is equally applicable between M.A. and Z.A. That is, the evidence shows that M.A. denied Z.A. his rights to the shared property just as much as Z.A. denied M.A. her rights. If the State’s argument on appeal is correct, then no matter what happened in light of the disagreement, someone committed a theft. That does not strike this court as a tenable interpretation of our criminal code. The legislature did not intend to criminalize bona fide contract disputes,” Judge Edward Najam wrote in reversing Z.A.’s adjudication.
“Here, where the jointly owned tangible personal property is indivisible, there is no agreement between the co-owners on the right to use the property, and the ownership is not exclusive, we cannot say that the State has proven the unauthorized control element of theft beyond a reasonable doubt.”•