Indiana Court Decisions – Oct. 1-14, 2014

Keywords neglect

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Oct. 6

Civil – Insurance

Robert Lodholtz v. Granite State Insurance Company


The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal court judgment in favor of an insurer after the insurer’s motion to intervene in a state court lawsuit on the same matter was denied. The federal court incorrectly determined the state court did not have jurisdiction over an injured worker’s lawsuit.

“The question for us … is whether a federal court can ignore a state court judgment on the ground that the state court misconceived its jurisdiction over the case, and thus whether it is open to Granite State to try to prove in its federal case that Lodholtz really was an employee of Pulliam and therefore the state courts had no jurisdiction of his suit against Pulliam,” Judge Richard Posner wrote.

Robert Lodholtz was seriously injured in 2011 while working at a plant owned by Pulliam Enterprises, and he filed a lawsuit in state court. Pulliam asked its primary liability insurer, Granite State Insurance Co., to defend and indemnify it, but Granite State declined. The insurer believed Pulliam was not liable because Lodholtz, as an employee injured in the course of his employment, could only make a claim for workers’ compensation. Lodholtz claimed that he was not employed by Pulliam, but by another firm while working at the plant.

The state court denied Granite State’s motion to intervene and ruled in favor of Lodholtz with a judgment of nearly $4 million. After striking out in appellate court, Granite State filed a lawsuit in federal court, which ruled in the insurer’s favor. The District Court found Lodholtz was an employee of Pulliam, so the state courts had no jurisdiction to entertain Lodholtz’s suit as it was really a workers’ comp issue and an administrative matter.

“One might have thought that because the Indiana courts denied Granite State’s motion to intervene, the insurance company never had a chance to argue absence of jurisdiction as a party to the litigation. As we know, that is not true; we know that Granite State made the argument – indeed the argument was the entire premise of its refusal to cover Lodholtz’s liability to Pulliam,” Posner wrote. “Had Granite State been willing to relinquish its reservation of rights, its motion to intervene would have been granted. It was not willing; and in asserting a reservation of rights it was trying to undermine the Indiana law that gives the insured the right to manage its own defense when the insurer reserves the right to deny coverage.

“The Supreme Court of the United States is the only federal court with appellate authority over state courts. … But even the Supreme Court would have no authority over the Indiana courts in Lodholtz v. Pulliam because no issue of federal law was involved in that litigation. Granite State has struck out.”

Indiana Supreme Court

Oct. 1

Juvenile – Child Support

In re the Paternity of D.M.Y., et al., M.R. v. B.Y.


In a per curiam decision, the Indiana Supreme Court accepted a case involving owed child support and ordered the father be credited for more than $7,000 seized from his bank account for the arrearage.

M.R. was ordered in 1999 to pay $146 weekly for child support for his two children with B.Y. In November 2010, he was found to be $21,337 in arrears. The court ordered $15,000 from his bank account sent to B.Y. for child support. A June 2012 hearing showed that $7,025.84 had been intercepted from his account and sent to B.Y. in early January 2012. B.Y. acknowledged receiving that additional amount.

But at the hearing, the summary of M.R.’s arrearage as of Dec. 31, 2011, did not accurately reflect that the $7,000 had been distributed. The trial court took note of it and found him in arrears of nearly $6,500.

M.R. continued to fail to pay child support, so at another hearing, the trial court calculated that father owed $13,055, which included the $7,025.84 that had already been distributed. He appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed in a divided decision.

The justices found that the trial court’s math doesn’t add up to the correct arrearage. The Supreme Court also noted that the trial court did not include the disputed amount as an amount paid or part of the arrears calculation and left it under the heading “amount in clerk of court’s undistributed account.” The trial court failed to give M.R. credit for the payment, so the justices ordered the trial court to recalculate his arrearage to provide him credit for the $7,025.84 payment.

Oct. 7

Civil Plenary – Death Certificate/Public Record

Evansville Courier & Press and Rita Ward v. Vanderburgh County Health Department


Taking what it called a “plain reading” of the state statute, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled death certificates which include the cause of death are public records and should be available to anyone who requests access.

The Supreme Court reversed the ruling from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court that limited access to cause of death information. The lower court held that a private citizen with no “direct interest in the matter or the information” could only inspect the “permanent record” at the local health department which does not list the reason for the death.

Disagreeing, the Supreme Court found the certificates of death that doctors, coroners and funeral directors file with county health departments are public records. Justice Mark Massa, writing for a unanimous court, acknowledged the balance between private personal information and the public’s right to know.

 “In our society, death is an intimate and personal matter,” Massa wrote. “We recognize that public disclosure of the details of a decedent’s death may cause pain to his family and friends. We are also mindful of the importance of open and transparent government to the health of our body politic. Our General Assembly has considered these competing interests and, insofar as we can determine, concluded that the public interest outweighs the private.”

The dispute began in June 2012 when the Vanderburgh County Health Department denied two requests from Rita Ward and the Evansville Courier & Press to review local death records from May 2012.

Both the trial court and the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the Vanderburgh County Health Department that the death certificates are not public records. Specifically, the department cited two statutes, Indiana Code 16-37-1-8 and -10, that it believed declare death certificates confidential.

In reaching the opposite conclusion, the Supreme Court pointed to a substantially similar case from 1975 where the Court of Appeals ruled death certificates were public records.

“We see no reason to reach a different conclusion today,” Massa wrote. “As we read the statute, the General Assembly has drawn a distinction between a certificate of death, which is intended to record cause of death data for use by health officials, and a certification of death registration, which is intended to authenticate the death for the purpose of property disposition. The former is a public record while the latter is confidential.”

For I.C. 16-37-1-10, the Supreme Court said a plain reading of the statute concludes that a member of the public cannot inspect or copy the record and files concerning vital statistics from the Indiana State Department of Health but can view that information at the local county health departments.

“…we cannot say with certainty that this madness has no method,” Massa wrote. “The General Assembly could have intended to distribute the administrative burden of record production among local health departments rather than letting it fall solely upon the State Health Department. Indeed, it has done likewise with regard to other public records; any citizen may obtain criminal records from a county clerk, Ind. Code 10-13-3-32 (2010), but he may not obtain those same records from the State Police unless he meets certain statutory criteria. Ind. Code 10-13-3-27(a) (2010 & Supp. 2013). Accordingly, we decline the Department’s invitation to ignore the plain language of the statute and second-guess the legislature’s judgment.”

The Supreme Court remanded the case for entry of summary judgment in plaintiffs’ favor. It also instructed the trial court to determine whether to award plaintiffs attorney fees.

Indiana Court of Appeals

Oct. 1

Criminal – Educational Credit Time

James Robinson v. State of Indiana


A trial court mistakenly believed it could not award educational credit time to a man serving his sentence on home detention, so the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the court to re-evaluate his petition.

James Robinson was ordered to serve four years on home detention after pleading guilty to forgery in September 2013. In December, he was awarded his general education development diploma. Several days later, the trial court revoked his community corrections placement and ordered him to serve the remainder of his sentence in the Department of Correction because of violations occurring in December and January 2014. The trial court denied his request for six months of educational credit time because the judge interpreted the statute to apply to people at the DOC or at a work-release facility to ensure good behavior.

Before ruling on the judge’s decision, the Court of Appeals addressed the state’s argument that the trial court could not rule on Robinson’s motion for credit time. The state claimed the DOC had to make the decision, and Robinson had not exhausted his administrative remedies.

But Robinson was not serving his sentence through the DOC, but through a county-based community corrections program, Judge Margret Robb wrote. The trial court, in consultation with Marion County Community Corrections, is in the better position to determine whether Robinson is entitled to the educational credit time.

The Indiana statutes are clear that at all times relevant to Robinson’s case, a person serving a sentence on home detention is entitled to request educational credit time. In his case, it is appropriate for the trial court to consider the request. Because the judge did not reach the merits of Robinson’s claim and did not specifically determine whether he had demonstrated a pattern consistent with rehabilitation, the COA remanded for further proceedings.

Oct. 8

Criminal – Drugs/Evidence

Rodney A. Richard v. State of Indiana


The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a man’s Class A felony conviction for dealing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex because the state didn’t prove the complex qualified as family housing under the law at the time of the offense.

Rodney A. Richard was charged with several offenses after selling cocaine to a confidential informant two times, including Class A felonies dealing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a park and within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex. He was convicted as charged and sentenced to a total of 52 years, with six years of his sentence suspended to probation.

He appealed, claiming the state didn’t prove he sold cocaine within 1,000 feet of the park or housing complex.

The state presented sufficient evidence from a Michigan City Sanitary District employee that the park was owned by a political subdivision, as is required by statute, at the time the offense was committed.

But the evidence provided by the state regarding Garden Estates Housing Complex proved that it qualifies as a family housing complex under the statute at the time of Richard’s trial, but did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that was true at the time Richard committed the offense. The fact that a family housing complex existed at the time of the offense is an essential element of the charge, Judge Margret Robb noted.

The judges reversed the Class A felony dealing within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex conviction and ordered the court enter the conviction instead as a Class B felony and resentence him accordingly.

Oct. 10

Civil Tort – Inverse Condemnation

Susan A. Snyder v. Town of Yorktown, Delaware County Surveyor, Delaware County Drainage Board, Randall Miller & Associates, Inc., and Watson Excavating, Inc.


A woman who sued after town and county officials worked on a drainage project on her property without her permission will be able to present her claim for inverse condemnation. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of that claim in her lawsuit against officials but affirmed she acted too late to present a trespass claim.

The town of Yorktown and the Delaware County Drainage Board entered into an agreement to improve storm drainage in the area, which included Susan Snyder’s property. She did not give her consent for any additional right-of-way or easement for the project, but officials went ahead with the project in fall 2007. Snyder claims as a result of the work, the project has caused continuous damage to her property due to storm water, debris and pollutant run off flowing into the new drain and her property.

For four years, Snyder said she was unable to obtain information about what entity was responsible for the project, and she learned in 2011 that the drainage board had jurisdiction over it. Snyder filed her tort claim notice in March 2013 and her lawsuit in September 2013 alleging, among other things, trespass and unconstitutional partial taking. The trial court granted the defendants’ Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

The judges agreed that the trespass claim should have been dismissed because Snyder’s tort claim notice was filed long after the 180-day notice period expired, regardless of whether the loss occurred in the fall of 2007 or in March 2012, when she claims she knew she “had been damaged” by the project.

But her unconstitutional partial taking claim, which the judges viewed as a claim for inverse condemnation, should not have been dismissed, Judge Terry Crone wrote. The defendants claimed it should be dismissed because she did not join her mortgagee, a known lienholder of the property, as a party to the action.

A complaint filed by the government or condemnor must include all the names of owners, claimants to and holders of liens on the property it seeks to take. The trial court reasoned that, regardless of whether the plaintiff is the government or a property owner, all lienholders have a right to know the property is subject to a condemnation action.

The failure by Snyder to include her mortgagee in her action is not grounds for dismissal, the judges held, pointing to the Indiana Supreme Court holding that the failure to name all interested parties is not a jurisdictional defect in condemnation actions. It may be corrected by allowing the mortgagee to intervene, or the opposing party may seek to join the absent party.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.•

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