Inmate’s failure to comply with ITCA dooms lawsuit

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A Department of Correction inmate who sued several government employees after he was injured when he fell out of a pickup truck lost his appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals Thursday.

John Feldhake was riding in the bed of the pickup truck driven by Nathan Walters, a maintenance supervisor, to go paint a house owned by the DOC. Feldhake claimed Walters drove the vehicle in a manner that caused him to fall against the tailgate of the truck and fall off the truck and injure himself. Feldhake sued Walters; Edwin Buss, the commissioner of the DOC at the time and Latoya Lane, who was interim superintendent of the Plainfield Re-Entry Educational Facility.

The accident occurred May 20, 2009, but Feldhake didn’t file his personal injury lawsuit until May 17, 2011. He never filed notice with the attorney general’s office, as required under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

In John Feldhake v. Edwin Buss, Latoya Lane, and Nathan Walters, 32A05-1406-CT-248, Feldhake claimed that he raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Walters’ behaved in a manner allowing him to be sued individually, even though Walters was a government employee. The defendants claimed that Feldhake failed to comply with the specific pleading requirement under the ITCA, thus making summary judgment appropriate.

“Here, Feldhake’s complaint failed to allege that any of the Defendants’ actions were criminal, outside the scope of their employment, malicious, willful and wanton, or calculated for their benefit. Additionally, Feldhake did not offer any evidence required under INDIANA CODE § 34-13-3-5(c) until the hearing on the motion for summary judgment,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote. “We have previously held that when a plaintiff fails to comply with the pleading requirement of INDIANA CODE § 34-13-3-5(c) and does not cure the defect with an amended complaint, the claim against the employee is barred and summary judgment is appropriate. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment to the Defendants in their individual capacities.”

Because he sued the government employees in their official capacities, Feldhake was required to provide notice of the suit to the attorney general within 270 days of his accident, but he did not do so. In addition, he waited two years to file the lawsuit, which is well beyond the deadline to do so.

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