Indiana Court Decisions – Oct. 7-20, 2021

Indiana Supreme Court

Oct. 7

Civil Tort-Mental Health/Motion to Amend

Betty Miller, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of John Allen Miller v. Laxeshkumar Patel, M.D., John Schiltz, M.D., Benjamin Coplan, M.D., Joseph Hill, M.D., Erik Fossum, M.D., Bradford Hale, M.D., Christine Tran, M.D., James Blickendorf, M.D., Robert McAllister, M.D., Sara Koerwitz, M.D., Timothy Held, PA, Community Health Network, Inc., d/b/a Community Howard Regional Health Hospital and Community Howard Behavioral Health, Community Physicians of Indiana, Inc., d/b/a Community Physician Network, Community Howard Regional Health, Inc., St. Joseph Hospital & Health Center, Inc., St. Vincent Health, Inc., Ascension Health, Inc., and Medical Associates, LLP

21S-CT-455

The Indiana Supreme Court has reversed the denial of a woman’s claim against a hospital that discharged her grandson just before he murdered her husband, remanding for reconsideration of her motion to amend under Indiana Trial Rule 15(C).

In 2018, Betty Miller sued numerous health care providers for negligently treating her mentally ill grandson, Zachary Miller, after he arrived at Community Howard Regional Health Hospital’s emergency room and requested admission for his mental illness and dangerous propensities, but was treated and discharged.

Zachary, who had been treated at least five times over a month for serious mental health issues, upon discharge from Community Howard killed Betty’s husband, John Allen Miller.

After filing her suit, Miller moved in February 2020 to amend her complaint under Trial Rule 15(C) to add a new claim against Community Health Network Inc. and Community Howard Regional Health Inc., which owned and operated Community Howard Regional Health Hospital, for violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

The Marion Superior Court denied her motion, relying heavily on Williams v. Inglis, 142 N.E.3d 467, 476 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020), which held EMTALA’s two-year statute of limitations preempted an amendment under Trial Rule 15(C). The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed, but Judge Elizabeth Tavitas dissented, arguing that it would be “inconsistent to hold that Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) ‘directly conflicts with’ … EMTALA when federal courts have allowed relation back under the similar federal rule.”

Indiana justices reversed for Miller on Oct. 7, finding EMTALA’s statute of limitations does not expressly preempt Miller’s proposed amendment under Trial Rule 15(C).

“We fail to see how an amendment under Trial Rule 15(C) directly conflicts with EMTALA’s statute of limitations when an amendment under the equivalent federal rule would not,” Justice Mark Massa wrote. “Because there is no material difference between the two procedural rules, Miller is not trying to use state law to ‘extend, expand, or enlarge’ her federal rights. Both rules work harmoniously with statutes of limitations by bringing claims within the necessary time period. EMTALA’s express preemption clause does not prevent Miller’s proposed amendment because there is no direct conflict.”

Additionally, the justices concluded that there was no implied preemption that would prevent Miller’s proposed amendment under Trial Rule 15(C). Upon consideration of the two strands of implied preemption — conflict and field — the high court concluded neither prohibits Miller’s proposed amendment.

“Because we find EMTALA’s statute of limitations does not preempt an amendment under Trial Rule 15(C), we reverse the trial court,” it concluded. “In denying Miller’s motion, the trial court focused only on preemption. It must now consider whether the EMTALA claim arose out of the same conduct set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original complaint, along with other relevant factors.”

It therefore remanded for reconsideration of Miller’s motion in light of the justices’ opinion in Betty Miller, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of John Allen Miller v. Laxeshkumar Patel, M.D., et al., 21S-CT-455.

__________

Oct. 8

Trust-Restraint on Marriage/Sibling Dispute

Roger D. Rotert v. Connie S. Stiles

21S-TR-452

Indiana Supreme Court justices on Oct. 8 reversed in a dispute between two siblings over a provision in their late mother’s trust regarding her son, holding that it was not an unlawful restraint on marriage.

Issues in the case began when siblings Roger Rotert and Connie Stiles went to court over the terms of their mother’s trust, which held that in the event Rotert was married at the time his mother died, his share of her property would be given to Stiles via a second trust.

Rotert was married when his mother died, and the Jackson Circuit Court denied his motion for summary judgment claiming those terms were void as a restraint against marriage.

The Indiana Court of Appeals split in reversing judgment for Stiles, concluding that because the marriage provision never had any legal existence, the provision could not be saved by an agreement or waiver of the parties.

But the Supreme Court reversed, rejecting Rotert’s arguments that the trial court’s summary judgment order both violated his due process rights and was wrong as a matter of law because the challenged provision is void on public-policy grounds.

It first concluded that the due-process claim failed because Rotert had reasonable notice and a meaningful opportunity to respond to Stiles’ motion, yet failed to do so.

The justices also agreed that Stiles is entitled to relief, but on a different ground than her allegation that the provision is a permissible “limitation” on Rotert’s interest, not an impermissible “condition.”

“We hold that the statutory prohibition of restraints against marriage applies only to dispositions to a spouse by will and not to dispositions by trust. We thus affirm the trial court without deciding whether this provision is a condition or a limitation,” it wrote.

The justices further concluded that the statutory rule prohibiting restraints against marriage does not apply because it governs only testamentary devises to a spouse in a will.

“Here, the challenged disposition is from parent to child in a revocable trust,” it wrote, concluding that the statutory prohibition under the probate code does not apply. Neither does the Indiana trust code prohibit the challenged provision, it added.

“Here, Rotert points to nothing in the trust code that ‘clearly prohibit[s] or restrict[s]’ the challenged provision, and we know of none. Given this section’s mandate to honor (the mother’s) intent, we decline to invalidate the challenged provision or to restrict what the legislature does not forbid,” it wrote.

The justices disapproved of the contrary holding in In re Estate of Robertson, 859 N.E.2d 772 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), declining to adopt the appellate court’s statement that the prohibition of restraints against marriage was a “well-settled general rule of law.”

Lastly, the high court in Roger D. Rotert v. Connie S. Stiles, 21S-TR-452, parted ways with Justice Christopher Goff’s concurrence on his conclusion that restraints against marriage violate public policy.

“Yet it points to nothing in the trust code providing that restraints against marriage in trust provisions violate public policy,” the justices wrote of the concurrence. “Instead, it relies on the Restatement (Third) of Property (Wills & Don. Trans.) § 10.1 cmt. c (2003), which is not the law in Indiana and cannot trump a duly enacted statute.”

In his concurrence, Goff wrote that he would conclude that the prohibition against restraints on marriage should apply to testamentary trusts, not just to wills.

Based on that conclusion, the concurring justice would affirm the trial court by holding that, because Rotert’s interests in the estate vested “at the time of” the settlor’s death, the terms of the trust amounted to permissible conditions of acquisition rather than impermissible conditions of retention.

__________

Oct. 19

Civil Tort-Premises Liability/Res Ipsa Loquitur

Walter Griffin, Jr. and Candus Griffin v. Menard Inc. and Briggs Plumbing Products, LLC

21S-CT-119

A home improvement retailer wasn’t at fault when a sink fell out of a defective box and injured a customer inside one if its stores, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

In 2015, Candus Griffin and Walter Griffin Jr. were shopping inside a Menards in Elkhart for a new sink.

When the Griffins found one they liked, Walter grabbed a box from the shelf. While lifting the sink, the bottom of the box opened and the product fell on Walter, causing injuries.

The Griffins sued Menards for damages, alleging premises liability and loss of consortium. Menards brought in the manufacturer of the sink, Briggs Plumbing Products LLC, as a third party.

Menards filed a motion for summary judgment alleging it had no actual or constructive knowledge of any issues with the box, but the Griffins contended there was an issue of material fact regarding Menards’ knowledge and made a res ipsa loquitur claim.

The Elkhart Superior Court entered summary judgment for the store, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded, finding there were issues of material fact precluding summary judgment on the knowledge as well as the res ipsa issues.

In the Oct. 19 opinion written by Justice Steven David, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The justices pointed to Burrell v. Meads, 569 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 1991), in the failure of the Griffins to prove Menards had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition of the defective box.

“The Court of Appeals held that there was an issue of material fact here and we disagree,” David wrote. “Menard set forth evidence, through the affidavit of its store manager and Walter’s deposition testimony, that there was an absence of genuine material fact as to its actual or constructive knowledge that the box was defective. The burden then shifted to Plaintiffs to come forward with evidence that creates an issue of material fact.

“… Although Plaintiffs designated evidence that Menard had no records of when it last inspected the boxes or how long the box was on the shelf, and Plaintiffs are critical of the same, this doesn’t create an issue of material fact with regard to Menard’s actual or constructive knowledge,” David continued.  “… Indeed, Plaintiffs do not argue that Menard had any duty to have certain policies, conduct certain inspections, or keep records of the same. We decline to impose such duties. We also reject any implication that a premises owner may avoid an inference of constructive notice by failing to enact or follow safety policies.”

In addition, the justices wrote Walter revealed he didn’t see any dangerous condition with the box when he inspected it before picking it up.

The justices also dismissed the res ipsa loquitur claim.

“… (D)etermining the res ipsa issue is necessarily dependent on whether a defendant can be liable under premises liability in the first place,” David wrote. “Thus, Plaintiff’s res ipsa claim alone does not preclude summary judgment for Menard.

“Additionally, even assuming res ipsa applies here, the doctrine requires that the injuring instrumentality was within the exclusive management and control of the defendant. That just isn’t the case here because customers had access to the sink box.”

However, the Supreme Court didn’t reject that res ipsa could apply to a premises-liability case in the future.

“If an injury results from a fixture or other component that customers did not or could not disturb — such as a chandelier suspended from the ceiling, or a set of shelves bolted to the wall — and the incident would not normally occur absent negligence, res ipsa could be appropriate,” the justices opined.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and justices Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter all concurred while Justice Christopher Goff dissented with a separate opinion.

In Goff’s six-page dissent, he wrote that while he takes no issue with concluding res ipsa doesn’t apply to the case, he disagreed with the court in its decision that the Griffins failed to meet their burden on their premises-liability claim.

“Contrary to this conclusion, the record here, in my view, sufficiently presents a genuine issue of material fact of whether Menard had constructive knowledge of the faulty box for liability to attach,” Goff wrote. “And even if the Griffins appear unlikely to prevail at trial, that’s a question for the jury — not for this Court — to decide.

“… Because the trial court, in my view, improperly granted summary judgment and deprived the Griffins of their constitutional right to a jury trial, I would reverse and remand for reconsideration of their premises-liability claim,” the dissent concluded.

The case is Walter Griffin, Jr. and Candus Griffin v. Menard Inc. and Briggs Plumbing Products, LLC, 21S-CT-119.

__________

Indiana
Court of Appeals

Oct. 7

Criminal-Sexual Battery/
Issue of First Impression

Kristopher P. Gliva v. State of Indiana

21A-CR-332

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a man’s sexual battery conviction for touching a woman multiple times after finding it relied on an overly broad interpretation of the sexual battery statute.

In the case of Kristopher P. Gliva v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-332, Gliva was alleged to have touched C.U.’s bottom three times while she was shopping at a large retail store. C.U. felt and reacted to two of the three touchings. Once she realized it wasn’t an accident, she told Gliva to leave her alone and he walked off.

Relying on evidence of all three touches, the state charged Gliva with one count of Level 6 felony sexual battery, alleging that C.U. had been “unaware that the touching is occurring.” On appeal, Gliva argued the touchings did not constitute sexual battery because C.U. was in fact aware she was being touched.

Countering that point, the state argued the “unaware” language in the sexual battery statute encompasses any touching the victim does not anticipate receiving. As such, the state argued that includes Gliva’s groping because C.U. did not know he was going to touch her before she felt his hand on her body

In addressing an issue of first impression on the meaning of “unaware” in the context of the sexual battery statute, the COA concluded that the plain language of the statute does not support the state’s broad reading.

“The legislature chose to use present tense in stating sexual battery occurs when the victim ‘is unaware that the touching is occurring.’ The verb tense in this clause does not change, meaning contemporaneous unawareness and touching. To interpret this phrase to include touches the victim does not anticipate is unreasonable,” Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote for the unanimous panel.

Based on precedent from rape and criminal deviate conduct cases, it concluded the unaware prong of the sexual battery statute applies when the victim lacks knowledge or acquaintance of the touching or is unconscious of the touching as the touching is occurring.

“Unawareness that the touching is going to occur alone does not satisfy the provision,” it wrote. Thus, the COA concluded that it couldn’t say with confidence that the state met its burden of proving sexual battery beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, it did find sufficient evidence to support a conviction of Class B misdemeanor battery. It therefore reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for battery as a Class B misdemeanor.

__________

Oct. 13

Civil Plenary-Arbitration/Default Judgment

Dexter Eastridge v. Estate of
Richard Rayles

21A-PL-673

A Crawford County man waived his right to arbitration by failing to respond to an estate’s motion to compel arbitration, making a default judgment by the trial court appropriate, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In December 2017, Dexter Eastridge and the Estate of Richard Rayles entered into a contract for the sale of standing timber. The agreement included an arbitration clause requiring the parties to arbitrate any disputes that arose.

In September 2019, the estate mailed a letter to Eastridge, attaching a proposed complaint and nominating C. Gregory Fifer as the estate’s elected arbitrator. The complaint asserted Eastridge had failed to complete the work contracted for under the agreement and to make the guaranteed payment.

The estate’s letter requested Eastridge to notify it and Fifer of Eastridge’s selection of an arbitrator within 20 days. Eastridge didn’t reply.

A month later, the estate filed a petition to compel arbitration, requesting the court to order Eastridge to submit the issue to final and binding arbitration and to select his arbitrators. The Crawford Circuit Court ordered him to make his selection within 10 days.

Sometime after being served, Eastridge sent a short, handwritten notice to the estate, indicating that he elected Tim Richards as his arbitrator. The note did not contain the contact information for Richards, and the estate could not locate or identify an arbitrator by that name.

The estate contacted Eastridge in early December, asking him for Richards’ address and phone number. Eastridge never contacted the estate nor filed a response to the trial court’s order.

On Jan. 21, 2020, the trial court ordered Eastridge to provide the estate with Richards’ contact information within 10 days or default judgment would be entered. Eastridge failed to appear or reply.

The following month, the trial court entered an order of disqualification on its own motion, and a new trial court judge was appointed. The new judge then denied the estate’s request for a default judgment because the estate had failed to provide the trial court with Eastridge’s military status. On March 5, the estate renewed its motion for a default judgment, attaching the missing nonmilitary affidavit.

In September 2020, approximately six months after the renewed petition was filed and 10 months after service of the original petition, with no response by Eastridge, the trial court granted default judgment against Eastridge in the amount of $172,979.22, plus attorney fees.

Eastridge filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, claiming it was void because the estate had failed to comply with the Indiana Uniform Arbitration Act; the facts of the case were extraordinary and justified relief; and he had failed to participate on the basis of mistake, surprise or excusable neglect. The trial court denied Eastridge’s motion.

The COA affirmed the ruling by the Crawford Circuit Court.

“Almost one year and a half after the Estate requested to commence arbitration and a default judgment was entered, Eastridge now requests this court to reject the default judgment and proceed by arbitration. Granting his request would create a precedent which would prevent a trial court from dealing with a situation where a party fails to participate in the arbitration process,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the COA.

Riley wrote that Eastridge attempted to avoid the waiver of his right to arbitrate by arguing the statutory framework of Indiana’s Uniform Arbitration Act.

“The plain meaning of section 4 gives the trial court the power to appoint an arbitrator only on the application of a party,” Riley wrote for the court. “We cannot find any evidence — nor does Eastridge provide us with any — that one of the parties requested the application of section 4 and allowed the trial court to appoint an arbitrator. Accordingly, we find that Eastridge waived his right to arbitration and we turn to the trial rules for further determination of this cause.

“… Because we conclude that Eastridge waived his right to arbitration and in the absence of any argument by Eastridge to set aside the default judgment based on any of the grounds enumerated in Indiana Trial Rule 60(B), we affirm the trial court’s denial of Eastridge’s motion to set aside the default judgment,” Riley wrote in Dexter Eastridge v. Estate of
Richard Rayles,
21A-PL-673.

__________

Civil Tort-Repossession/Damages

Horizon Bank v. Fabian Huizar

20A-CT-1937

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the damages awarded to a Tippecanoe County man who had his ride repossessed one summer night but remanded for attorney fees to be recalculated to a
lower amount.

Fabian Huizar answered his front door after 10 p.m. in July 2018 to find two employees from K.I.G. Recovery Service preparing to repossess the 2015 Ford Explorer he had purchased for his fiancee. One of the workers talked to Huizar while the other entered the vehicle and then kept the doors locked until Huizar’s fiancee handed over the keys so the SUV could be driven away.

Horizon Bank, which financed the purchase of the Explorer, told Huizar he would have to pay the loan in full in order to get the vehicle back. Subsequently, the SUV was sold at auction for less than the loan’s total, so the bank demanded Huizar pay the deficiency balance of $7,679.08.

Instead, Huizar filed a complaint against Horizon. He alleged the bank had violated the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, the Indiana Uniform Commercial Code and the Crime Victims Relief Act. In an amended complaint, he tacked on another claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The Tippecanoe Circuit Court initially gave the checkered flag to all of Huizar’s claims, awarding damages for each and determining he was entitled to attorney fees. However, upon further review, after Horizon filed a motion to correct error, the trial court found the bank was not a debt collector and could not be held liable under the FDCPA.

Horizon appealed, arguing, in part, the trial court abused its discretion by finding the bank had breached the peace and by awarding Huizar attorney fees under the IUCC and CVRA. Huizar cross-appealed on multiple issues including that the trial court abused its discretion in assessing attorney fees.

Although the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court did not err in many of its rulings, the appellate panel agreed with the bank and reversed the award of attorney fees under the IUCC and CVRA.

Huizar’s lawyer, Duran Keller, had requested an award of $400 an hour for about 185 hours of work on the case.

The trial court lowered the rate to $300 per hour for 154.35 hours of work for a total of $46,305. Along with finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in reducing Keller’s hourly rate, the appellate court determined that Huizar could not recover attorney fees under the IUCC and CVRA.

However, the Court of Appeals noted attorney fees were available under the DCSA. It reversed and remanded with instructions that the trial court award Huizar attorney fees only for hours attributable to his DCSA claim. The Court of Appeals also affirmed the trial court’s award to Huizar of $1,500 in nominal damages under the CVRA. Moreover, it upheld the award of reduced IUCC damages of  $3,080.03.

Huizar had argued the trial court should not have slashed the IUCC damages award. The trial court had calculated the damages to be $10,759.11 but then subtracted the deficiency balance and awarded the remainder to Huizar.

“If the collateral is sold in the usual manner in a recognized market for those goods, then the sale is presumed to be proper,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the court, citing Hall v. Owen County, State Bank, 175, Ind. App., 150, 163, 370 N.E.2d 918, 929 (1977). “… Here, the record establishes that the vehicle was sold at auction and there is no evidence that Horizon executed the sale in bad faith.”

The case is Horizon Bank v. Fabian Huizar, 20A-CT-1937.

__________

Oct. 18

Criminal-Child Molesting/Charging Information

Gabriel Cabrera v. State of Indiana

21A-CR-446

An Indianapolis man who did not challenge the sufficiency of the charging information at his trial and then argued to the Indiana Court of Appeals that the lower court committed a fundamental error by holding a trial was told in a six-page opinion that his argument was unavailing.

Gabriel Cabrera was charged for having sexual relations with his stepdaughter over a four-year period. At a bench trial, he was convicted of four counts of Level 1 felony child molestation and two counts of Level 4 felony sexual misconduct with a minor and sentenced to 30 years in the Indiana Department of Correction, with three years suspended.

On appeal, he claimed the charging information failed to state with sufficient particularity the facts that formed the basis of the criminal charges. To get around his failure to file a motion to dismiss or raise any objection before or during his trial, he argued the Marion Superior Court committed fundamental error by holding his trial.

The Court of Appeals disagreed in Gabriel Cabrera v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-446, finding the trial court did not commit a fundamental error and the charging information satisfied the statutory requirement for the time limitations.

Specifically, the appellate panel noted the charging information alleged a time period that did not exceed one year for each of the eight charged counts.

Indiana Code § 35-34-1-2(a)(5) requires the indictment or information provide the date of the offense with “sufficient particularity to show the offense was committed within the period of limitations applicable to that offense,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the court.

In this case, the victim turned 16 in December 2019, and the time periods alleged by the state only covered dates through September 2019. Because the limitations period for both child molestation and sexual misconduct ends when the victim reaches age 31, the charging information showed that each of the charged offenses was committed within the applicable limitations period.

Also, Mathias cited Love v. State, 761 N.E.2d 806, 809 (Ind. 2002), in noting the state is not confined to proving the commission of the crime on the date alleged but may prove the commission at any time within the statutory period of limitations.

“The time frames alleged by the State here satisfy this requirement, as well,” Mathias wrote. “The respective date ranges covering each offense spanned no more than one year. Plus, as the State highlights, B.L.’s recall of each of Cabrera’s offenses was relative to her grade in school.

“The State crafted each time frame to correspond with B.L.’s progression through each grade in school, which is as definitely as the State could have framed them,” Mathias continued. “… (T)he State’s allegation of separate time frames spanning less than one year did not deprive him of a fair trial.”•

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}