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Judgment against casino as discovery sanction affirmed

March 8, 2019


Finding a Lake Superior judge properly ordered summary judgment against a casino as a sanction for dragging its feet on discovery in an elderly man’s negligence complaint filed after a fall, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed and sent the case back to determine the man’s damages.

Joseph Ferrantelli Sr. was 86 in March 2016 when he and a “lady friend” heard about a “crab leg deal” and wanted to “gamble a little bit,” so they went to the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. Ferrantelli said he asked an attendant where he could get a wheelchair, and after he was given one, an attendant told him to take the escalator. His chair fell backward, causing him to be injured, and he filed a negligence lawsuit.

But after multiple lingering discovery disputes as Ameristar failed to produce witnesses for depositions or documents pertaining to Ferrantelli’s case, Lake Superior Judge Bruce D. Parent entered default judgment against the casino parties as a sanction. Parent also denied a motion to set aside the default judgment, leading to this appeal.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, found no abuse of discretion by the trial court, upholding its rulings in a case that judge Terry Crone wrote “illustrates the dangers of noncompliance with our liberal and self-effectuating discovery process.

“To be clear, the entry of a default judgment is the ultimate sanction. Still, we must be mindful that ‘[t]rial judges stand much closer than an appellate court to the currents of litigation pending before them, and they have a correspondingly better sense of which sanctions will adequately protect the litigants in any given case[.]’ Wright v. Miller, 989 N.E.2d 324, 327 (Ind. 2013). 

“It is not the place of this Court to substitute our judgment for that of the trial court, as we must presume the trial court acted in accord with what was fair and equitable in the specific case. … The trial court here made a detailed oral record explaining its frustration with Ameristar’s behavior, as well as its prior warnings to counsel to stop what the court viewed as the intentional sandbagging of the case considering the plaintiff’s advanced age. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the sanction of default judgment was warranted. Moreover, the trial court was well within its discretion to reject Ameristar’s equitable demands for the court to set aside the default judgment pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(8).7 Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s orders and remand for further proceedings on the issue of damages.”

The case is Ameristar Casino East Chicago, LLC, Ameristar East Chicago Holdings, LLC, and Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc. v. Joseph Ferrantelli, Sr.,  18A-CT-1174. 
  

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