COA affirms denial of reinstatement petition for lack of good cause

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A special trial court judge properly denied a Vigo County woman’s petition to reinstate her previously dismissed case, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Wednesday, finding the woman failed to establish good cause for reinstating her case.

After Carrie Etta Mills-McGoffney died in 2012, her daughter, Kelly McGoffney, was appointed personal representative of the estate. Two years after her mother’s death, McGoffney filed a pro se complaint on behalf of her mother’s estate against the Vigo County prosecutor, Vigo County Adult Protective Services and Margaret Ditteon, alleging prior to her mother’s death, the prosecutor and APS became involved in a dispute over her guardianship, so Ditteon was subsequently appointed to care for her against the wishes of the family.

McGoffney further alleged she was prohibited from having contact with her mother and only learned of her death after the fact. Additionally, McGoffney said Ditteon refused to secure the necessary treatment for her mother, which resulted in her death.

Thus, McGoffney sought “to be compensated for (her mother’s) injuries and death and damages from the aforementioned negligent acts to the extent permitted by law.” Special Judge Hugh Hunt of Sullivan County was appointed to the case, and in response to McGoffney’s complaint, the prosecutor and APS insisted a licensed attorney was required to file the complaint if it were brought on behalf of the estate.

The special judge agreed and struck the complaint in April 2015, then denied McGoffney’s motion for default judgment based on the defendants’ untimely filing of responsive pleadings. McGoffney retained counsel and filed a motion to reconsider, arguing “a review of the Probate Code demonstrates that nothing affirmatively requires a personal representative to hire an attorney.”

The special judge denied that motion and instead extended the estate’s deadline to file an amended complaint signed by counsel. However, McGoffney’s counsel withdrew, so she moved for, among other things, a change of judge to the Indiana Supreme Court. The trial court denied that motion, but McGoffney against moved to disqualify Hunt.

McGoffney further moved for Final Entry of Judgment for Order, and the trial court set all of the motions for hearing, as well as setting the matter, sua sponte, for a dismissal hearing for failure to prosecute or comply with rules. McGoffney filed multiple motions claiming Hunt was inexperience and biased, but Hunt ultimately dismissed the case without prejudice after McGoffney failed to appear at the scheduled hearing in June 2015.

Rather than appealing, McGoffney moved to reinstate her original complaint and requested default judgment. The trial court denied all of McGoffney’s motions on July 8, so she filed an amended notice of appeal on Sept. 7, prompting Ditteon and the prosecutor to file motions to dismiss the appeal as untimely.

The Indiana Court of Appeals denied the motions to dismiss the appeal, but Judge Patricia Riley wrote Wednesday the court only considered McGoffney’s argument the trial court had abused its discretion by denying her motion to reinstate.

The appellate panel rejected that argument, with Riley writing that for roughly three months after McGoffney’s complaint was stricken in April 2015, “there was no active complaint before the trial court in order for the trial court to even be able to address McGoffney’s related motions.” Further, McGoffney offered no good cause as to why she did not attend the June 2015 dismissal hearing, so she failed to establish good cause that her complaint should be reinstated, Riley said.

Thus, the trial court’s decision in The Estate of Carrie Etta Mills-McGoffney v. Vigo County Prosecutor, Terry Modesitt, Vigo County Adult Protective Services, Jerry Hawk, Angela Hall, and Margaret Ditteon d/b/a Personal Resource Management, 84A01-1608-MI-1810, was affirmed.

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