Gov. Holcomb files appeal in Bloomington annexation dispute

Gov. Eric Holcomb is turning to the Indiana Court of Appeals after the Monroe Circuit Court denied the governor’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the city of Bloomington over an annexation dispute. Special Judge Frank Nardi issued a stay Dec. 4 on further court proceedings pending an interlocutory review.

Bloomington filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against Holcomb in May, claiming a provision inserted into the state budget specifically targeting the city’s attempts to annex nearly 10,000 acres is unconstitutional. The city pointed out Section 161, which was introduced less than 24 hours before the Legislature approved it, terminates the planned expansion of the municipality’s boundaries and prohibits any future annexation of that area until July 1, 2022.

In October, the governor’s motion to dismiss was denied in City of Bloomington v. Eric Holcomb, 53C06-1705-PL-001138.

The court found Bloomington had no other remedy than to challenge Section 161 in order to move forward with the annexation. Getting a declaratory judgment, the court noted, will determine whether the law is constitutional and if Bloomington can proceed with the annexation.   

Also, the court ruled the governor is the appropriate defendant in this case. Holcomb will be responsible for enforcing Section 161 and prior Indiana case law – Stoffel v. Daniels, 908 N.E.2d 1260 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009) – has found the governor is the appropriate defendant when the constitutionality of a statute is at issue.

In the appeal filed Dec. 4 with the Court of Appeals, the Indiana Attorney General argued Holcomb is not the proper defendant. The motion for interlocutory appeal asserted that responding to the city’s discovery request for substantive answers as well as the identification of witnesses and documents from the governor would require time and money.

The motion also pointed out that in State v. International Business Machines Corp., 964 N.E.2d 206, 209 (2012), the Indiana Supreme Court held that executive privilege protected the governor from being deposed.

Through the motion, the Attorney General urged the appellate court to protect the independence of the executive branch.

“Just as unlawfully compelling the Governor to sit for a deposition interferes with his official duties, so too does subjecting him to suit (and the discovery that comes with it) where he has no actual ability to provide the plaintiff with relief,” the motion stated. “It is important for this Court to grant jurisdiction over this appeal to ensure the Governor is not inappropriately burdened with having to defend against abstract constitutional claims.”

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