Indiana Supreme Court justices affirmed Thursday the denial of a fired Indiana Department of Environmental Management chemist’s petition for judicial review, but vacated a portion of an appellate panel’s decision that it considered too broad.
After more than 20 years of employment, Timothy Brown was terminated from his position as an environmental chemist with IDEM for running samples without verifying a valid calibration and for reporting invalid data as valid. Brown, however, alleged that he was fired in violation of Indiana’s Whistleblower Law.
The State Employees’ Appeals Commission initially dismissed Brown’s complaint and found that the emails he had sent to his supervisor were not reports and that he failed to show that his alleged protected activity was related to his termination.
The Marion Superior Court granted judicial review and reversed the dismissal, concluding that Brown’s emails constituted reports and that SEAC erred by dismissing the case without considering the emails’ content. But on remand, the SEAC granted summary judgment in favor of IDEM.
On Brown’s second attempt for judicial review, the trial court denied the petition and concluded that “Because SEAC’s summary judgment order addresses a different legal issue and different evidence, the law-of-the-case doctrine does not apply here.”
“On Brown’s appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. It agreed that the law-of-the-case doctrine does not apply here because ‘the standards of review for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment are different’ and ‘additional evidence was considered by the SEAC, including Brown’s emails, on remand.’ But the Court of Appeals went further and found that the law-of-the-case doctrine ‘is applicable only when an appellate court determines a legal issue, not a trial court.’
“The Court of Appeals need not have reached so broad a conclusion to resolve the issue,” the justices wrote in a Wednesday per curiam order.
“Accordingly, we grant transfer, vacate that portion of the Court of Appeals opinion, and affirm the trial court’s conclusion that the law-of-the-case doctrine does not apply in this case’s specific circumstances. In all other respects, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals opinion,” the high court concluded.
The case is Timothy J. Brown v. Indiana Department of Environmental Management, 20S-MI-609.