Indiana Court Decisions - Jan. 6-19, 2016

January 27, 2016

Indiana Supreme Court

Jan. 14

Criminal – Hearsay Statements

Leandrew Beasley v. State of Indiana


James Beasley v. State of Indiana


The admission of testimony regarding a murder victim’s recount of his previous altercation with the man convicted in his murder were properly allowed as hearsay statements under Indiana Evidence Rule 804(b)(3), the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.

The justices granted transfer to the cases of brothers Leandrew and James Beasley, who were jointly tried and convicted in the murder of James Allen and attempted murder of Gerald Beamon in Indianapolis.

The Beasleys appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in allowing Beamon to testify – over their repeated hearsay objections – as to what Allen had told him about an altercation the day before involving Allen and Leandrew Beasley. The day before the fatal shooting, Leandrew Beasley and Allen got into a fight in a garage and Beasley pulled a gun. Allen attempted to grab it and Beasley was shot in the face. James Beasley was at the scene, according to Beamon. He was told this story by Allen the next day, who showed Beamon pictures of the Beasley brothers.

Shortly thereafter, Allen and Beamon were shot while moving items into an apartment. Beamon identified the shooters as the Beasley brothers.

The Court of Appeals held the admission of Beamon’s testimony regarding what Allen told him about the garage shooting was erroneous, but harmless. The justices took the companion cases based on this issue.

“In both (Jervis v. State, 679 N.E.2d 875, 878-80 (Ind. 1997)) and (Camm v. State, 908 N.E.2d 215, 220 (Ind. 2009)), the declarants’ statements sought to be admitted (one referencing dumping off a woman and the other having bodies on one’s conscience) were vague and subject to interpretation. Here, we have no such ambiguity: Allen gave Beamon a precise account of his altercation with Beasley, and stated in no uncertain terms that he shot Beasley in the face,” Justice Mark Massa wrote in Leandrew Beasley v. State of Indiana.

“Even if Allen believed the shooting was justified as a matter of self-defense, it does not necessarily follow that Allen believed there was no possibility of future civil or criminal liability for the act. Beasley opposes this position by likening Allen’s statements to telling someone you ‘drove home drunk last night,’ in support of his assertion that “trivial ‘confessions’ of criminal conduct” should not be rendered admissible hearsay under Rule 804(B)(3).

“We cannot agree that the act of shooting a fellow human being in the face qualifies as ‘trivial.’ Rather, we find the trial court could have reasonably determined that admitting to such a violent act would have ‘so great a tendency ... to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability’ that it was admissible hearsay under Rule 804(b)(3).”

Indiana Court of Appeals

Jan. 12

Domestic Relation – Child Support Arrearage

Michael G. Hays v. Shanna Hays


An Indiana trial court erred when it granted a mother’s request for Trial Rule 60(B) relief from a Wyoming court order that reduced a father’s child support arrearage to zero.

The mother won a court order in December 2014 declaring the Wyoming order null and void, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the trial court also erred in determining that neither party could take the dependent exemption for their children on their income taxes.

Michael and Shanna Hays divorced in Wyoming in 2008 and Michael was ordered to pay support of $777 per month for three minor children in Shanna’s custody. As the parents moved and custody of the children changed over time, a court in Wyoming in 2013 set arrears at zero after Shanna was defaulted in that case.

Special Judge William E. Weikert in Perry Circuit Court granted Shanna relief because Wyoming lacked jurisdiction in the case since Michael and a child he cared for since had moved to Wisconsin.

Applying the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, Judge Margret Robb wrote, “Regardless of whether Wyoming had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify the child support order, however, it had had continuing jurisdiction to enforce the order. … Here, the Wyoming court order states the court conducted ‘a thorough inquiry of the other jurisdictions potentially involved in this matter [and] concluded that it does have jurisdiction over the child support arrears determination. … Indiana may not reconsider the Wyoming court’s determination regarding jurisdiction.”

The panel also held the trial court erred by ruling that neither party may take income tax exemptions for their dependent children even after both parties asked the court to allocate tax exemptions for 2012.

Guardianship – Power of Attorney

In the Matter of Guardianship of Natalie N. Stant Adult, Jeffrey Stant v. William Stant and Natalie Stant


A trial court misinterpreted an amended statute regarding power of attorney, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in giving a son the ability to look at his mother’s finances.

Jeffrey Stant appealed the denial of his “Action in Mandamus to Compel Delivery of Accounting.” He sought an accounting of the financial records belonging to his mother, Natalie, after his brother, William, blocked his petition for the appointment of a permanent guardian over his mother and her estate.

The trial court tossed Stant’s mandamus action, holding he couldn’t see the financial accounting because he had not applied for power of attorney after July 1, 2012.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Stant that the trial court erred in how it interpreted Indiana Code 30-5-6-4. Noting the statute had been amended in 2012 and again in 2014, the appellate court said nothing in the language limited the delivery of the accounting to only those children who had powers of attorney created after July 1, 2012.

“The effective date of the powers of attorney are not relevant to who may make a request and receive an accounting, as only the class of persons who may request and receive an accounting, and therefore have a right to an accounting, has changed as a result of the statutory amendments to Indiana Code section 30-5-6-4,” Judge James Krisch wrote.

Jan. 15

Civil Tort – Medical Malpractice Lawsuit/Causation

Debra R. Sorrells v. Karen Reid-Renner, M.D.


A woman initially treated for an aggressive form of cancer, only to later discover she had a far-less serious form of the disease, can proceed with her lawsuit alleging a doctor was negligent in catching her cancer early.

Debra Sorrells went to family medicine practitioner Dr. Karen Reid-Renner as a new patient in October 2008 and had blood work performed. Tests revealed an elevated white blood cell count, but the doctor did not communicate the results with Sorrells or monitor her with any concerns for cancer.

A year later, Sorrells went to a different doctor where a blood test revealed a highly elevated white blood cell count. She then saw oncologist Dr. Mark Dayton, who diagnosed her with mantel cell lymphoma and believed she only had weeks to live. He believed she had been living with the serious form of cancer for more than a year and ordered aggressive treatment. Later pathology reports revealed Sorrells had lymphoproliferative disorder, a low-grade lymphoma.

Sorrells then filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint in 2009 and a lawsuit in 2013, claiming if Reid-Renner had communicated the test results, she would not have had to undergo certain treatment and procedures. A medical review panel found for Sorrells as to liability but against her as to causation. The trial court granted the doctor’s motion for summary judgment.

Dayton testified at the trial and mentioned that he likely would have used a different course of treatment had Sorrells been appropriately monitored and tested early on. This testimony is sufficient to rebut the medical review panel’s opinion as to causation, in that Dayton’s testimony creates a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Reid-Renner’s negligence caused Sorrell’s alleged injuries and damages, including unnecessary medical treatments and procedures, as well as the emotional distress caused by the delayed diagnosis, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Terry Crone wrote in reversing the trial court’s ruling.

Jan. 19

Infraction – Ordinance/Speed Limit Sign

Cary R. Coleman v. State of Indiana


The Indiana Court of Appeals threw out a man’s speeding ticket issued in Lawrence County after ruling the county did not make motorists aware with signs of the 35 mph speed limit on the road.

The statewide default maximum speed established by statute is 55 mph on roads, unless a local jurisdiction alters the speed limit. Indiana Code 9-21-5-6(c) requires appropriate signs giving notice of the altered limit on the street or highway. Lawrence County enacted Ordinance 5-2-1, which sought to reduce the speed limit throughout the county to 35 mph.

Cary Coleman was clocked at 46 mph going northbound on Leesville Road and pulled over for speeding and issued a ticket. He disputed the infraction, claiming that the applicable speed limit for the road was 55 mph and that there were no signs giving notice of the 35 mph speed limit for northbound motorists.

There is a sign placed illegally by a private citizen facing the southbound lanes alerting motorists of the slower speed limit.

The trial court agreed with the state’s argument that because the county ordinance dictates the speed limit county-wide, Indiana law does not require a sign be posted for the ordinance to be applicable.

Coleman appealed, and the judges agreed with him.

“In enacting Lawrence County Ordinance 5-2-1, the county sought to reduce the speed limit throughout Lawrence County to 35 miles per hour. However, it is undisputed that there are no signs on Leesville Road notifying northbound motorists of the altered speed limit. Thus, pursuant to I.C. § 9-21-5-6(c), the altered speed limit was not effective as to northbound traffic, and the default speed limit of 55 miles per hour was applicable. Because Coleman was alleged to have been traveling at 46 miles per hour, he did not commit the civil infraction of speeding,” COA Judge Robert Altice wrote.

Criminal – Inventory Search/Drug Conviction

Chauncy Rhodes v. State of Indiana


Each member of a panel on the Indiana Court of Appeals authored an opinion regarding a man’s marijuana conviction stemming from the discovery of the drug during an inventory search after he was arrested for allegedly driving on a suspended license. Two of the three judges voted to reverse his felony conviction.

Judge Melissa May authored the main opinion, outlining the facts of the case. Officer Dustin Greathouse pulled Chauncy Rhodes over for speeding. Rhodes stopped the car in a driveway. Because he was arrested for driving on a suspended license, Greathouse decided to tow the car and conducted an inventory search. He did not record everything he discovered, but did note marijuana found in a “red metal grinder” in the glove box.

Rhodes sought to suppress the evidence, which was denied; he objected to it at trial as well. Rhodes was convicted of Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana, enhanced to a Class D felony based on his prior conviction of marijuana possession.

May found that Greathouse’s testimony was insufficient to prove the inventory search he performed on Rhodes’ car complied with official police policy. Because the state did not present evidence of police procedure, the search violated Rhodes’ Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure, she held. Judge Michael Barnes concurred in a separate opinion, noting there was no evidence of any effort made to comply with constitutional and statutory requirements in this case.

Judge Terry Crone in his dissent noted Greathouse’s testimony described the purpose of the inventory, outlined the procedures used to conduct it and established that Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department policy authorizes on-site inventory searches. There is no evidence that Greathouse was rummaging around in the car to find incriminating evidence. Crone also noted that it was reasonable to decide to impound the vehicle because the car was parked in the driveway of a private residence and someone in that home wanted to make sure the car wasn’t going to be left in the driveway.

Civil Plenary – First Priority/Lien

Amici Resources, LLC and Solid Foundation Investment Properties, Inc. Partnership; Solid Foundation Investment Properties, Inc.; Gary Hippensteel; et al. v. The Alan D. Nelson Living Trust, et al.


A trial court correctly concluded that a living trust, which held a purchase-money mortgage over a property in question, had first priority in enforcing a lien against the property, the Court of Appeals ruled.

Sabine Matthies obtained a nearly $40,000 judgment against Solid Foundations Investment Properties Inc. in December 2012. Gary Hippensteel, director and president of SFIP, subsequently purchased an Indianapolis property after borrowing money from the Alan D. Nelson Living Trust. SFIP executed a mortgage granting the trust a security interest in the property; SFIP also signed a promissory note. The organization also entered into a partnership and borrowed money from Amici Resources to cover renovations to the property. SFIP executed a second mortgage granting Amici a security interest in the Indianapolis property.

Matthies sought to enforce her judgment lien against SFIP, but the trust argued that it held a purchase-money mortgage and therefore had first priority against the Indianapolis property.

A trial court ruled that the trust’s lien had first priority and Amici’s lien had second priority. The court ordered $40,000 held in an escrow account be paid to the trust. The court also entered a $39,000 judgment against Hippensteel and SFIP, jointly and severally, in favor of Amici.

The Court of Appeals affirmed that the trust had priority over Matthies’ lien. The mortgage qualified as a purchase-money mortgage, which, according to I.C. 32-29-1-4, “has priority over any mortgage, lien, or other claim that attaches to the real estate but is created by or arises against the purchaser-mortgagor prior to the purchaser-mortgagor’s acquisition of title to the real estate.”

But the trial court erred in concluding that Amici’s mortgage lien has second priority, the judges held, citing Michaels v. Boyd, 1 Ind. 259, 260 (1848) and Yarlott v. Brown, 86 Ind. App. 479, 149 N.E. 921 (1925). Therefore, Matthies’ lien should be granted second priority behind the trust’s lien. The case is remanded to amend the order to reflect as much.•


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