Indiana Court Decisions

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Indiana Supreme Court

March 22

Civil Plenary – Precinct Consolidation

State of Indiana v. John Buncich, in his capacity as chairman of the Lake County Democratic Central Committee, et al.


The Indiana Supreme Court ruled an effort to consolidate small Lake County precincts to reduce election costs was not unconstitutional, finding it is neither an impermissible special law nor a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.

The case came on direct appeal from the Lake Circuit Court under Indiana Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(b). The court ruled 4-1 in the decision, with Justice Robert Rucker dissenting in a separate opinion.

The Indiana General Assembly enacted Indiana Code 3-11-1.5-3.4, which aimed to reduce the cost of elections by consolidating small precincts, defined as those with 500 active voters or fewer. Of the county’s 525 precincts, 130 fell into the category at the time.

A small precinct committee was formed in Lake County to identify the precincts, determine potential cost savings, and see who could be joined together. This would also mean some recently elected committeepersons would lose their jobs. The Lake County Democratic Central Committee and five Democratic precinct committee-persons sought declaratory judgment and an injunction, saying the statute was unconstitutional as special legislation under Article 4, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution and violated the separation of powers doctrine recognized in Article 3, Section 1.

The trial court granted LCDCC’s motion to consolidate a ruling on the merits, saying all Indiana counties have small precincts and have an interest in consolidating precincts, and there are no unique circumstances that justify the application of the statute to just Lake County. The court also ruled the statute violated Article 3, Section 1. The state appealed.

Justice Mark Massa wrote the decision for the majority and said the LCDCC did not carry its burden of proof in the case. Because Lake County has more small precincts than the next seven counties combined, Massa said the legislation was justified. “Because the rest of the counties in the state have significantly fewer small precincts, we decline to second-guess the legislature’s decision not to set up a small precinct committee in counties that don’t need it,” Massa wrote.

Massa said the statute also does not offend Indiana’s separation of powers doctrine. The precinct committeepersons do not perform a state government function, but are bound to their precinct, and the separation of powers clause only applies to those who perform a state government function.

Rucker dissented, writing speculations on what the Legislature could have found should not substitute for actual findings. He said the state’s arguments that reducing the number of small precincts likely leads to administrative efficiencies and the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration’s estimate it carried substantial financial burden does not mean it actually did, and the court should not make its decision on those claims without solid proof.

Rucker, who grew up in Gary, is concerned about the effect the statute will have on voting strength. Many of the precincts that will be eliminated are in the Gary area, which will give that city less say in county elections. While it’s not required a city has so much sway, Rucker wrote, it does give disparate treatment the justices are trying to avoid and has many political implications.

Civil Plenary – IBM/Breach of Agreement

State of Indiana, Acting on Behalf of the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration v. International Business Machines Corporation


IBM breached its master services agreement with the state in its failed bid to privatize and modernize Indiana’s welfare systems, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled, more than six years after the state sued the tech giant over the $1.3 billion contract.

“We hold that under the facts and circumstances of this case, looking at the performance standards and indicators provided in the MSA, IBM’s collective breaches were material in light of the MSA as a whole. With the exception of its material breach analysis, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals on all other issues,” Justice Steven H. David wrote.

The decision opens the door for the state to collect damages from IBM, whose administration of welfare programs led to excessive delays in meeting with applicants and processing applications, document mismanagement, high staff turnover and poor internal and external communications, among dozens of problems the state identified.

The Court of Appeals ruled in February 2014 that IBM breached the contract to modernize the welfare system that was undertaken beginning 10 years ago in the administration of former Gov. Mitch Daniels. In October 2009, the state terminated IBM’s contract for cause, and this litigation ensued.

While the state will be entitled to calculated damages, justices affirmed some of the awards previously made to IBM. Affirmed in the decision were trial court awards upheld by the Court of Appeals of $40 million in assignment fees and $9,510,795 in equipment fees for IBM. The court reversed the trial court’s award of $2,570,621 in early termination close-out payments and $10,632,333 in prejudgment interest to IBM, but remanded for determination of change-order fees in the company’s favor.

The high court heard arguments in the case in October 2014, and later recommended mediation between parties. The court voted 4-0, with Justice Mark Massa, a former Daniels adviser, not participating.

“Because IBM failed to perform satisfactorily as determined by the State (and by its own admission), consistently failed to meet certain timeliness metrics, and failed to assist the State in achieving its Policy Objectives, we hold that IBM did materially breach the MSA through its collective breaches in light of the MSA as whole,” David wrote.

Read more about the drafting of the IBM contract on page 1.

Indiana Court of Appeals

March 17

Miscellaneous – Protective Services Order

Norma Jackson v. Indiana Adult Protective Services


The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a decision by the Delaware Circuit Court that said an 81-year-old woman needed 24-hour care and supervision at a nursing facility and allowed her to return home after it found Adult Protective Services did not present sufficient evidence she was involved in a life-threatening emergency.

Norma Jackson, now 82, was placed in the Meridian Services Gero-Pyschiatric Unit and then The Woodlands Care Center after a doctor diagnosed her with dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s disease. She had gotten into a minor car and couldn’t remember her vehicle had been towed away. When police checked on her, she could not remember who the president of the United States was.

While she was at the facilities, she kept forgetting to take her medicines and couldn’t always remember where the bathroom was, but doctors noted she was in good physical shape. The trial court entered a protective services order June 30, finding Jackson to be an endangered adult in need of protective services for 24-hour care and supervision. It ordered Jackson to remain at the Woodlands until a medical doctor determines she is ready for discharge into a less restrictive environment.

The court said while Jackson suffers from dementia, she’s been able to arrange for the bank to pay her bills, buy her own groceries, cook her own meals and bathe.

The COA said the trial court erred in its emergency order for services for Jackson because the duration of the emergency services is indefinite. The longest an order may stay in effect is 10 days. Also, Jackson did not suffer from a life-threatening emergency, as dementia does not qualify as such. “In effect, the trial court entered an involuntary protective services order that is outlined in Indiana Code section 12-10-3-21,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote.

Domestic Relation – Farming Property

Jeffery Allen Ring v. Kimberly S. Ring


A man will get to keep part of his farming property after the Indiana Court of Appeals found appointing a commissioner for the property was an impermissible modification of his and his ex-wife’s divorce agreement.

Kimberly Ring filed for divorce from her husband, Jeffery Ring, in 2015. In the marriage dissolution, it was decided everything should be split equally. Jeffery Ring was a farmer, and as part of the agreement he kept the farming equipment, machinery, livestock and other property, and because of that had to pay $1,140,825 to Kimberly Ring as part of the settlement.

Jeffery Ring said he was able to borrow $400,00 right away to help pay the debt, and the rest would need to be paid off within 10 years at a minimum of $75,000 per year. Jeffery Ring had 90 days to complete the loan application. After this agreement, Jeffery Ring used one of the two parcels of land as collateral to help his son get a farm, and could not borrow the $400,000 he said he could beforehand.

Kimberly Ring filed a citation for contempt alleging Jeffery Ring had not complied with the order to complete the loan application in 90 days and later filed a request for orders to enforce decree of dissolution. In that she requested a commissioner to sell the farms to satisfy the judgment.

A commissioner was appointed for the farms, and later Kimberly Ring filed another citation for contempt saying Jeffery Ring did not cooperate with the commissioner. At the end of that hearing, they agreed to sell the smaller of the two parcels to satisfy the judgment. Jeffery Ring appealed.

The trial court affirmed that the selling of the smaller parcel was a permissible modification of the agreement and settlement, but Jeffery Ring appealed that appointing a commissioner for parcel A was an impermissible modification.

The COA said the trial court’s appointment of a commissioner to operate and sell the bigger parcel was an impermissible modification of the original terms between the parties because it went beyond Jeffery Ring’s obligation to attempt to obtain a loan to satisfy the judgment, reversing that part of the judgment. Also, there was no danger that Jeffery Ring was going to mismanage the farm or waste it in any way. Jeffery Ring’s family had been farming for years, and he had operated it successfully until that point.

March 23

Criminal – OWI Causing Death/Resentence

Morgan Mannix v. State of Indiana


The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the sentence given to a woman who hit a man with her car and killed him while driving drunk was too harsh and took two years off it. However, the COA upheld all other parts of her conviction.

Morgan Mannix was staying with her parents after coming home from college and was driving home after a party the day after Thanksgiving. She was drunk and went off the road for 100 feet, hitting Alex Tabert and killing him as he was walking back from Fairbanks Hospital.

Mannix stopped and got out of her car, knowing she hit something, but she couldn’t find what she hit. After looking around for 15 seconds, she went home and went to bed. The next morning her dad was at the scene of the accident looking for what his daughter hit when he found police there investigating a dead body. He told the officers his daughter may have been involved and she was taken for a blood draw. Her blood alcohol content was measured at 0.10. At trial, she was found guilty of Class C felonies failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death, but not guilty of Class B felony operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in the body causing death.

Mannix appealed, saying the trial court erred in admitting evidence of her blood draw because her consent was not voluntary and in allowing the state to amend the charging information to add Class C felony OWI causing death because it was a substantive amendment that prejudiced her substantial rights. She also claimed the trial court erred by relying on the elements of the offenses to sentence her to an above-advisory term for each conviction.

The COA said Mannix did comply with the blood draw, even telling the nurse at the hospital she consented. Mannix contended a breath test should have been offered first, but the law says a breath test or chemical test can be offered.

The court also ruled Mannix’s rights were not prejudiced because she had more than sufficient time to prepare for and defend against the new charge, which was brought eight months before her trial.

However, the COA said the trial court judge erred when he justified an above-advisory sentence by relying on both counts and the elements as aggravators. The COA said this was problematic because the sentencing statement did not include an explanation as to why both counts and the elements were aggravating, and the judge relied on the elements of one offense to support an above advisory sentence for the other offense.

Because of this, the COA exercised its authority to review and revise Mannix’s sentence, and gave her four years with one year suspended for each conviction, to be served concurrently, and one year of probation.

Judge Terry Crone disagreed with court’s majority when it said the trial court judge relied on both counts and the elements as aggravators in Mannix’s sentence. He said the case the majority relied upon t, Gomillia v. State, 13 N.E.3d 846, 852 (Ind. 2014), does not say that, and even if it did, he thought the distinguishing factors of fleeing and intoxication were self-evident and enough to support the trial court’s sentence.

March 24

Criminal – Batson Analysis

Carlos Villaruel v. State of Indiana


A trial court did not follow Batson regulations when dismissing a Hispanic juror before the trial of a man convicted of Class D felony intimidation and Class A misdemeanor domestic battery, and as such the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his convictions.

Carlos Villaruel was charged with intimidation and domestic battery charges in 2014 after police officers responded to a 911 call from Shayla Swank, who was crying and had a bloody lip and a mark on her eye. Officers noticed Villaruel was drunk, and he was later charged after he was combative with the officers who arrested him.

During jury selection for his trial, the state moved to strike for cause the only Hispanic candidate on the jury. Villaruel objected, citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S Ct. 1712 (1986), a United States Supreme Court case which said the use of peremptory challenges to remove a potential juror from the jury pool based on race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The trial court said there was no Batson issue for Hispanics, and let the strike stand.

The COA said since the Batson decision, the U.S Supreme Court has also added challenges based on ethnicity, and said Batson also applies to ethnicity cases. “The trial court did not analyze Villaruel’s objection to the peremptory challenge and did not follow Batson, even though it applies to challenges based on ethnicity,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote. Because the trial court did not perform the Batson analysis, the COA reversed Villaruel’s convictions.

The COA did find there was enough evidence for Villaruel to stand trial a second time, and it would not violate double jeopardy rules. Villaruel argued he was drunk and what he was saying should not have been taken seriously, but the COA said voluntary drunkenness is not a valid defense.

Criminal – Rape/Robbery/Resentence

Alexander Dupree v. State of Indiana


An Indianapolis man who was one of five accomplices who robbed a house and sexually assaulted victims inside during a two-hour rampage will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, but the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday he had been subjected to double jeopardy and trimmed 30 years off his sentence.

Alexander DuPree was one of five people who had been using marijuana, cocaine and drinking alcohol since the evening before Oct. 29, 2013, when they broke into the house occupied by a couple and their daughter. The intruders ransacked the house, and Dupree raped and assaulted the daughter.

DuPree was charged with 35 counts, and a jury convicted him of 11: Class A felony criminal deviate conduct, Class A felony attempted criminal deviate conduct, two counts of Class A felony rape, Class A felony burglary, Class A felony robbery, Class B felony robbery, three counts of Class B felony carjacking, and Class C felony robbery.

“Dupree contends that (1) his convictions for Class B felony robbery of A.P. and three counts of carjacking violate Indiana’s single larceny rule, (2) his convictions for Class A felony robbery and Class A felony burglary violate prohibitions against double jeopardy because they were both enhanced by the same bodily injury, and (3) his 248-year sentence is inappropriate. While we disagree with Dupree’s first and third contentions, his second is meritorious,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

“Consequently, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions to reduce Dupree’s Class A felony robbery conviction to a Class B felony and reduce his aggregate sentence to 218 years of incarceration.”

March 28

Civil Plenary – Zoning Ordinances/Mining

Rogers Group Inc. v. Tippecanoe County, Board of Commissioners of Tippecanoe County and its commissioners, et al.


A builder must seek a special exception to mine in a flood plain zone after the Indiana Court of Appeals found that ordinance enforceable under state statute. However, an ordinance that doesn’t allow mining within two miles of a residential area is not enforceable because it was not enacted in accordance with Indiana’s zoning statutes.

Rogers Group Inc. wants to operate a quarry in Tippecanoe County, but the land is on a flood plain and within two miles of a residential area. Two ordinances would make it more difficult for the group to build, one that prohibits construction within two miles of a residential area and one that requires a party to seek an exception when mining in a flood plain. Rogers challenged the ordinances in court, saying both were not enacted using correct procedures.

Both Rogers and the county filed motions for summary judgment, and the trial court found in favor of the county.

Rogers argued that the ordinance banning mining within two miles of a residential area is a zoning ordinance, and should have been enacted as such, but is invalid because it was not. The COA agreed, finding the mining ordinance is a zoning ordinance, but was not enacted properly under Ind. Code 36-7-4-601 through 616. The COA relied on the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in City of Carmel v. Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., 883 N.E.2d 781 (Ind. 2008), which set out the definition of a zoning ordinance.

The Carmel decision said the purpose of zoning ordinances is to confine certain classes of uses and structures to designated areas, and the COA said this ordinance does that, confining quarries to more than two miles from residential areas. As such, it was subject to the 600 Series Procedures.

The COA said the flood plain ordinance was enforceable. Rogers Group argued that it was not centered around an amendment to I.C. 36-7-4, and the amendment eliminated the flood plain exception previously identified in case law. In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly amended Section 1103(c) by changing “advisory planning law” to “this chapter” and adding “or action of a plan commission” after ordinance.

The COA said that was not a correct interpretation.

“If Rogers Group believes that the legislature had a contrary intent, its remedy lines in the legislative process, not in this Court,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in the opinion.•

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