Justices accept Northern District’s negligence certified question

The Indiana Supreme Court has accepted a certified question on the issue negligence, granting a request to resolve a jurisdictional split within the Northern Indiana District Court.

On request from Northern District Judge Holly Brady, the justices on Tuesday accepted this question: “May a plaintiff bring a claim in negligence against a store manager, not directly involved in the plaintiff’s accident, based on a delegation of the premises owner’s duties toward invitees, Indiana agency law, or any other legal principle? If so, what is the scope of that duty?”

Brady certified the question to the state high court last month in David Branscomb, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, East, LP, et al., a slip-and-fall case out of Huntington County. Plaintiff David Branscomb sued a local Walmart store and its manager in state court, but the defendants removed the case to the Fort Wayne Division of the Northern District Court, arguing the store manager could not be joined as a defendant.

Branscomb moved for a state-court remand, prompting Brady’s question. The motion for remand was based on Antonio v. Walmart, 1:07-cv-006-JDT-TAB, 2007 WL 28884371 at *7 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 27, 2007), which allowed a state-court remand based on the “unsettled nature of Indiana law” regarding holding a store manager liable in a negligence case.

But Brady broke from Antonio earlier this year in Gunkel v. Crysler, where she rejected the argument that a store manager could be held liable in a slip-and-fall case. Northern District Senior Judge William Lee, however, later took the opposite approach in Chandler v. Kohl’s Dept. Stores, Inc.

“This situation has existed for more than a decade and is problematic,” Brady wrote. “The jurisdiction of a court should not vary based on the presiding judge. This is particularly true where, as here, an answer exists: a store manager either owes a duty to customers to prevent slip-and-fall accidents or he does not.”

In accepting the certified question, the Indiana Supreme Court set oral arguments for Nov. 19.

Principal briefs and appendices are due Oct. 9, as are amici briefs. Response briefs will be due Oct. 27. “Extensions of time will be granted only in truly extraordinary circumstances and only for a very short period,” the court wrote.

Two weeks after the case in the Supreme Court is concluded, all documents will be submitted to the Northern District clerk.

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