Justices grant transfer in health benefits, public disclosure, forfeiture cases

Indiana Supreme Court justices have agreed to consider three new cases, including a breach of contract suit over revoked health insurance benefits, a feud between an Indianapolis television station and a local high school, and a forfeiture judgment allowing owners to use seized cash for their defense.

The justices denied transfer in 27 out of 30 cases that came before them last week but decided to hold oral arguments in three of those, including Clark County REMC v. Glenn Reis, et al., 21S-CT-343.

In that case, a majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals found that local utility Clark County REMC breached its contract with former directors Glenn Reis, Dale Bottorff, Steve Stumler and Jimmie Sanders when the utility revoked their health insurance coverage after they had already retired or resigned from the board.

Judge Nancy Vaidik, writing for the COA majority, rejected Clark County REMC’s argument that there was no “mutuality of agreement” making the policy a contract. But Judge L. Mark Bailey dissented, finding that the majority engaged in a “logical fallacy” in holding that the utility was obligated to continue providing coverage to the plaintiffs.

Oral argument in that case has been set for 9 a.m. Oct. 7.

 The justices also agreed to hear WTHR-TV v. Hamilton Southeastern Schools, 21S-MI-345.

There, the COA ruled that Hamilton Southeastern Schools fulfilled its public disclosure duties when it provided information about a suspended physical education teacher and head football coach’s discipline and personnel history, even though the district did not provide specific personnel records. An Indianapolis TV reporter had verbally requested the name of the employee, the grounds for and dates of the suspension, the date of the underlying incident, and confirmation of whether the teacher involved was the same teacher WTHR-TV had previously reported on.

Indiana’s public access counselor initially said the HSE superintendent’s response to the request did not identify a sufficient factual basis, but the school district continued to decline to identify the teacher involved. The Hamilton Circuit Court eventually ruled for the school district, and the COA affirmed on appeal.

Oral arguments will be heard at 11 a.m. Sept. 16.

Finally, the justices decided to hold oral argument in the civil forfeiture case of Terry L. Abbott v. State of Indiana, 21S-PL-347. The COA in that case overturned summary judgment for the state in an action seeking to forfeit nearly $9,000 and four firearms from Terry Abbott found during a search.

Abbott had argued that the $9,184 in cash was not related to criminal conduct. His lawyer eventually left the case due to his failure to pay legal fees.

The appellate majority found “no statute precluding a court from (1) considering the res when examining a person’s means or (2) allowing use of the res for the limited purpose of funding a defense to forfeiture.”

Judge Nancy Vaidik partially dissented and opined that she would not allow Abbott to use the seized cash to pay for an attorney.

Oral arguments have been scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 9.

A full list of cases examined, discussed and addressed on petition to transfer or review by the Supreme Court from the week ending July 23 can be found online. 

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