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COA upholds summary judgment to Tipton Schools

February 14, 2018

A central Indiana school corporation was properly granted summary judgment on a parent’s negligence claims, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, determining the corporation was immune under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

In 2013, Jennifer Edwards received a contract from the Tipton Community School Corporation allowing her to work as a bus driver in her own bus, rather than one owned by the district. While driving the bus in November 2014, Edwards drove over a dip in the road, allegedly throwing 13-year-old Abigail Jacks into the seat in front of her and causing a lacerated pancreas.

The Jacks family filed negligence claims against Edwards and the school corporation. The school moved for summary judgment, alleging Edwards was an independent contractor and the corporation had immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. For her part, Edwards alleged she was an employee of the school district, which owed a duty of care to Abigail.

The Jacks family then moved to strike the school’s reply brief and supplemental designation of evidence, which the Tipton Circuit Court denied before granting the motion for summary judgment. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the grant of summary judgment on interlocutory appeal Wednesday.

Judge Michael Barnes first wrote that under Indiana Trial Rule 56 and precedent from cases such as Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Benko, 964 N.E.2d 886, 889-90 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), the trial court did not err in allowing the school corporation to submit a reply brief and supplement designation as part of the summary judgment proceedings. Thus, the denial of the Jacks family’s motion to strike was not erroneous.

The appellate court then determined Edwards had a “transportation contract,” as opposed to an employment contract, with Tipton Schools under Indiana Code section 20-27-2-12, making her an independent contractor. That means the corporation had immunity for Edwards’ alleged negligence, the court found.

Despite that, the Jackses argued the school district had a non-delegable duty of care to Abigail. But relying on Bartholomew County v. Johnson, 995 N.E.2d 666 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), Barnes wrote that “where a governmental entity has immunity from the acts or omissions of an independent contractors, the non-delegable duty analysis is inapplicable.”

Finally, the family and Edwards argued Tipton Schools was negligent for failing to properly train and supervise Edwards. But Barnes – pointing to evidence of Edwards previously obtaining her CDL, completing safety courses and fulfilling her duties without complaint from parents or students — said there was no issue of fact as to whether the district breached its duty to train and supervise Edwards.

The case is Abigail Elizabeth Freeman Jacks, a minor, by next friends Jennifer Jacks and William Scott Freeman, and Jennifer Jacks, and Jennifer Edwards v. Tipton Community School Corporation, 80A02-1705-PL-923.

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