Appeals court reinstates stabbed worshiper’s suit against Sikh temple

A worshiper’s lawsuit against the Sikh temple where he was stabbed in a 2018 confrontation was reinstated Tuesday after the Indiana Court of Appeals found the temple had notice of an escalating factional feud over leadership. The temple also “had reason to recognize the probability or likelihood of looming harm,” the panel determined.

The COA reversed entry of summary judgment for the temple and remanded Harjinder Singh v. Amardeep Singh and Gurdwara Har Gobind Sahib Ji Corp., 20A-CT-959, to proceed in Johnson Superior Court.

Harjinder Singh went to the temple, or gurdwara, on April 15, 2018, for the traditional religious celebration of Vaisakhi, also known as Baisakhi. The annual spring commemoration holds historical and cultural significance for Sikhs and many Hindus.

But there had been trouble brewing over the direction of the temple, COA Judge Elaine Brown wrote, preceding incidents of that day that gave rise to Harjinder Singh’s lawsuit. Brown wrote that evidence in the case shows the gurdwara notified Greenwood police, who provided off-duty security, about “rising tensions between two different groups.”

Brown wrote that the gurdwara told police “it was concerned that certain agitators in the community would cause trouble at the temple.” On the advice of police, the gurdawara sent letters to “the potential agitators, instructing them not to enter the temple” before the events at the temple on April 15, 2018, when Harjinder Singh was stabbed in the shoulder with a spear.

Harjinder Singh sued his alleged attacker, temple board member Amardeep Singh, and later amended his complaint to also name the gurdwara. The Johnson Superior Court granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding the gurdwara owed no duty to Harjinder Singh under the foreseeability standard of Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar, 62 N.E.3d 384 (Ind. 2016).

But the appellate panel saw evidence of foreseeability in the temple’s actions. In addition to the letters and communication with police, “more security guards were present on the premises” the day Harjinder Singh was stabbed than on a day to elect board members. Likewise, “Signs were posted in the gurdwara that restricted photos or videos because of bad publicity and people becoming argumentative. That day, people carried weapons, which the designated evidence reveals was a normal practice, and carried weapons inside the place of worship, which Harjinder’s designated evidence indicated ‘was not normally done,’” Brown wrote for the panel.

The temple also had terminated the membership of a dozen people and hired a Marion County sheriff’s deputy to hand letters to those people at the door in case they had not received the notices in the mail.

“On these facts, we find that Gurdwara Hargobind had notice of present and specific circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to recognize the risk of an imminent criminal act, and had reason to recognize the probability or likelihood of looming harm on a special day of celebration at which its change in leadership was to be announced and the new Board of Directors was to take charge,” the panel concluded in reversing and remanding the case.

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