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COA: 25-year delay doesn't make motion for relief untimely

May 29, 2018

Despite a 25-year delay between an original summary judgment ruling and the subsequent grant of a motion for relief from that judgment, the Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court’s finding that the 2015 motion for relief from the 1990 judgment was not untimely.

After the Kirchgessner family acquired a large tract of Clark County land in 1949, Wayne and Donna Kirchgessner purchased a 40-acre parcel in 1984. The couple then filed a lawsuit against the owners of nearby parcels, including family members and the Clark County Board of Commissioners, alleging their parcel was “landlocked,” that Kruer Road was the only way in and out of the parcel and that their relatives had prevented their use of Kruer Road.

The couple moved the Clark Circuit Court to quiet title to the Kruer Road easement and to declare that the Board of Commissioners had the responsibility to maintain the road. The family members eventually entered into a stipulation of facts that was attached to the couple’s motion for summary judgment in 1990. The stipulation held that Wayne and Donna could use Kruer Road to access the property, which meant the only issue left to resolve on summary judgment was the county’s claim that Kruer Road was not the county’s responsibility.

The trial court ultimately declared in October 1990 that the road was a “public highway by use” and ordered the county to perform limited road maintenance. But when the county paved a new Kruer Road in 2012, Richard and Theresa Williams – relatives of the Kirchgessner clan – moved in 2015 to vacate the October 1990 summary judgment entry, arguing there was no longer a need for county involvement with the original road, which ran through their property.

Wayne and Donna opposed the motion – which was treated as one for relief from judgment – but the trial court ruled in the Williamses’ favor. That ruling meant the Williamses were free to close of all access to the original Kruer Road, prompting the instant appeal in Wayne and Donna Kirchgessner v. Betty Kirchgessner, Albert Kirchgessner, Norbert Kirchgessner, Marcella Kirchgessner, Stephen Kirchgessner, Mary Ann Less, Fred Kirchgessner, et al., 10A01-1710-CP-2309.

The couple argued Richard and Theresa’s Rule 60(B) motion was untimely, but the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the trial court’s judgment on Tuesday. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the unanimous appellate panel that despite the 25-year delay in the filing of the Williamses’ motion, the motion was timely when the delay is balanced against the changes that led to the motion. Vaidik specifically pointed to the fact that the new road was not paved until late 2012, and the Williamses spent the next three years conducted title searches and obtaining consent orders from nearby property owners affected by the vacation of Old Kruer Road.

“There is no question that twenty-five years is a long time. However, that does not necessarily mean it was an unreasonable time,” Vaidik wrote. “…In this unique case – where the county didn’t build the new road until twenty-two years after the original judgment, and where the Williamses could not have filed a viable 60(B) motion before the new road opened – we cannot say that the trial court abused that discretion by finding the motion to be timely.”

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