COA dismisses 4-year-old suit against nursing home

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A woman who sued a Noblesville nursing home over her mother’s care that she claimed was negligent failed to persuade the Indiana Court of Appeals to reinstate her civil lawsuit.

The Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal in Joann G. Sartain, by and through her attorney-in-fact, Cindy Harding v. Trilogy Healthcare of Hamilton II, LLC d/b/a Prairie Lakes Health Campus, 19A-PL-1567, holding that because the Hamilton Superior Court never issued final judgment in the case, the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

Cindy Harding is attorney-in-fact for her mother, Joann Sartain, who has dementia and lived at the Prairie Lakes nursing home from February 2012 until February 2014. Sartain sued Prairie Lakes by and through Harding in November 2015, claiming counts of negligence for substandard care and improper discharge, as well as counts of abuse of process and breach of contract.

After the trial court dismissed two claims in 2016, litigation continued on the negligence count alleging substandard care and the breach of contract claim until this past June, when the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal. The stipulation read that the parties, “pursuant to Rule 41(A)(1)(b) of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, stipulate and agree to the dismissal of the above-referenced cause of action, in its entirety, each party to bear their own attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses.”

The trial court signed the order, but three weeks later, Sartain appealed, seeking to reinstate the claims dismissed in 2016 and arguing the court had jurisdiction on the basis that she was appealing from a final judgment. Prairie Lakes moved the COA’s motions panel for dismissal, but the motions panel denied the motion.

“In its appellee’s brief, Prairie Lakes responds to Sartain’s arguments on the merits but first asks us to revisit its motion to dismiss the appeal,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel. “… Having done so, we agree with Prairie Lakes that the appeal must be dismissed.

“Sartain argues that we should allow her appeal to proceed under our decision in Keck v. Walker, 922 N.E.2d 94 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010),” Vaidik wrote. “… Three key facts distinguish Keck from this case.

“First, the parties in Keck did not jointly file a stipulation of dismissal that would have ended the case without a court order, as happened here. Rather, the plaintiffs unilaterally filed a notice of dismissal that needed to be approved by the trial court,” the chief judge wrote. “… Second, the plaintiffs in Keck requested dismissal of only the one remaining count (Count I), not dismissal of their case ‘in its entirety,’ as happened here. And third, the dismissal order in Keck specifically stated that the earlier order granting summary judgment on Count II ‘was now a final and appealable order.’

“Here, there was no such language about Counts I and III in either the parties’ Stipulation of Dismissal or the trial court’s Order of Dismissal,” Vaidik concluded. “For these reasons, Keck does not save Sartain’s appeal.”

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