Justices let stand $500k default judgment against Menards

A default judgment awarding a plaintiff $500,000 in damages in a personal injury suit against a Gary Menards store will stand after a divided Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the home-improvement chain’s appeal.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Steven David voted to grant the petition to grant transfer in Menard Inc. v. Reba Lane, 45A03-1606-CT-01283. The split decision finalizes the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling affirming the award.
The COA found that a summons and complaint a deputy served on the Menards store personally and via certified mail addressed to “Attn: Highest Executive Officer Found on Premises” were adequate notice of Reba Lane’s suit alleging injuries from a malfunctioning shopping cart. Lane also sent notice to Menards former registered agent, CT Corp., which replied that it had not worked with Menards for more than five years and had no forwarding address to which to send the summons.

Justices last week granted two petitions for transfer. In one, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a conviction of invasion of privacy stemming from indirect communication. In another, the court took up a conviction of resisting law enforcement. In both cases, the convictions were thrown out by the Court of Appeals.

A former parishioner’s email to church elders complaining about a pastor who had a protective order against her led to her conviction of invasion of privacy that was overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals. Justices unanimously granted transfer in Shelly M. Phipps v. State of Indiana, 28S05-1707-CR-49.

Shelly Phipps had been a member of a Solsberry church where pastor K.G. had provided marital counseling to her and her husband. The pastor had a protective order dating to 2008 against Phipps, who sought an apology from him for sharing details of marital counseling with church elders and for twice hugging her.

In February 2016, Phipps emailed church elders saying she was going to “go public” with accusations that K.G. broke her trust, and for “sexual harassment” for hugging her and saying he loved her. She also provided an ultimatum for K.G. to comply. A jury convicted Phipps of Level 6 felony and Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy in Greene Superior Court, but a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the majority joined by Judge John Baker that Phipps’ email was a request for church elders to take action for the alleged conduct of their employee, and it was their discretion to ignore the email or respond to Phipps’ demands. Dissenting Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III would have affirmed the conviction, finding a reasonable jury could infer from the email and Phipps’ conduct that she intended to violate the protective order by indirectly communicating with K.G.

Justices also agreed to grant to Jefferson Jean-Baptiste v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1608-CR-1798, in which the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Jefferson Jean-Baptiste’s conviction of resisting law enforcement in Marion Superior Court.

Police arrived at Jefferson Jean-Baptiste’s residence to serve a civil warrant, but he refused to comply. A sheriff’s deputy tried to grab Jean-Baptiste’s arm, but he pulled away. The deputy then entered the home and arrested him on suspicion of resisting arrest. The COA found evidence was insufficient to support the arrest and also found the trial court committed fundamental error by denying his right to a jury trial without first eliciting a waiver from the defendant on the record.

The justices unanimously denied transfer in 20 other cases during the week ending July 28. Supreme Court transfer dispositions may be viewed here.

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