IN Justices to hear property damage, child molesting cases Thursday

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The Indiana Supreme Court bench in the Indiana Statehouse (IL file photo)

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday in cases involving a couple’s negligence lawsuit against the town they live in and a man’s challenge to the exclusion of evidence in his child molesting case.

Justices will first hear arguments in the case of Julie Nordin and Mike Nordin v. Town of Syracuse, 23S-CT-12, at 9 a.m.

Julie and Mike Nordin sued the town of Syracuse because, a week after they bought a lake cottage, the town issued a work order to shut off the water because a deposit hadn’t been paid. However, the water was already off, so when a worker turned the valve, the water was turned on and flooded the cottage with 6,000 gallons of water.

A claim representative for the town’s insurer estimated the repair cost to be $55,928.44, reduced to $43,062.26 for “non-recoverable depreciation.”

The cottage foundation would need to be elevated to remain compliant with the county’s flood control ordinance. Demolition estimates ranged from $255,000 to nearly $295,000.

The couple sued the town for negligence, seeking damages for “damage to property, loss of use of property, and lost rental income.”

The town moved for summary judgment, arguing the damages were limited to the difference in the fair market value of the cottage before and after the flooding, which came to $400. The town also maintained the cottage was uninhabitable before the flooding and argued the Nordins couldn’t recover for loss of use or lost rental income.

The Kosciusko Circuit Court agreed, but the Court of Appeals of Indiana split and reversed, finding the trial court subtracted the post-damage market value of the building from the pre-damage market value instead of awarding the full pre-damage market value.

Partially dissenting, Judge Terry Crone opined that the majority improperly faulted the Nordins for “fail[ing] to specify an alternative measure of damages” to the pre-flooding market value of the cottage and, in turn, “disregarded Indiana’s summary judgment procedure.”

After Nordin, the justices will hear arguments in the case Matthew Hayko v. State of Indiana, 23S-CR-13, at 10 a.m.

In that case, Matthew Hayko was convicted of Level 4 felony child molesting and sentenced to eight years, with two years suspended to probation.

During the state’s case-in-chief, the executive director of a children’s advocacy center testified over objection about delayed disclosure and children’s reactions to molestations.

Hayko asked to present testimony from witnesses regarding their opinion character of V1, his daughter. In the offer to prove, the three witnesses testified independently about their interactions with the child and their opinion that she was untruthful.

The Spencer Circuit Court concluded Hayko had not laid a proper foundation for that testimony and thus declined to admit it.

Hayko appealed, arguing in part that the trial court’s conflation of the foundational requirements for reputational testimony under Indiana Evidence Rule 608, as to his proffered opinion testimony under that rule, denied him the right to present a defense.

The Court of Appeals majority agreed that the trial court misinterpreted Rule 608. The court found no caselaw that set out the foundational requirements for admissibility of opinion testimony and concluded that the court’s discussion covered only the requirements for reputational evidence.

Judge Elizabeth Tavitas dissented on that issue, writing, “Because admission of such opinion testimony has the potential to be problematic, we should give trial courts wide leeway when deciding to admit or exclude such evidence.”

The arguments will be held in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom on the third floor of the Indiana Statehouse in downtown Indianapolis. They will also be livestreamed.

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