Justices grant transfer to clarify that Trial Rules, Marion Co. local rule ‘work in harmony’

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

Granting transfer to clarify a procedural question, the Indiana Supreme Court has determined that a Marion County local rule regarding dispositive motions doesn’t conflict with the Indiana Trial Rules.

The dispositive motion at issue in Donnell Goston, Sr., et al. v. State of Indiana, et al., 23S-CT-5, was one for summary judgment filed by the Indiana Department of Child Services. DCS had been sued for negligence by Donnell Goston Sr., a father who alleged the agency was negligent when it failed to contact him about injuries to his twin children.

The Marion Superior Court granted DCS’ motion for summary judgment, which was actually its third successive motion. The agency’s previous summary judgment motions had been denied.

Goston raised multiple issues on appeal, including the argument that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing DCS to file a third successive motion. Specifically at issue was Marion County Local Rule LR49-TR16 207(B), which, according to the Supreme Court, “governs case management orders and permits Marion County courts to establish limitations ‘on the time to file all pre-trial motions.’”

Here, the trial court allowed DCS to file the third successive summary judgment motion after the deadline for dispositive motions had passed under Local Rule 207(B). But the Court of Appeals affirmed, determining Indiana Trial Rule 56(B), which allows a summary judgment motion to be filed “at any time,” takes precedence.

While the Supreme Court agreed with the COA’s ultimate ruling, it disagreed with the lower appellate court’s reasoning.

“On this procedural issue, the Court of Appeals reached the right result, but for the wrong reason,” the high court held in a Monday per curiam opinion. “The trial court acted within its discretion to consider the defendants’ summary judgment motion, not because Trial Rule 16 and Local Rule 207(B) conflict with Trial Rule 56(B), but because they work in harmony.”

Quoting the plaintiffs’ petition to transfer, the high court continued, “Rule 16 gives the Trial Court discretion and authority to set and alter dispositive motion deadlines in a way that allows summary judgment motions to be filed ‘at any time.’ This does not mean that deadlines may not be placed on summary judgment motions, nor does it mean that local rules allowing such deadlines are categorically invalid. It means that summary judgment motions can be filed ‘at any time’ before the dispositive motion deadline expires, or ‘at any time’ after the deadline expires so long as the Trial Court finds it will prevent manifest injustice. In this way, Rules 16 and 56 work together … .”

Thus, “the trial court appropriately exercised the discretion afforded by Trial Rule 16 in a manner that balanced the goal of doing justice to the merits of the case, minimizing the risk of prejudice to the plaintiffs, and maintaining orderly and efficient court proceedings,” the justices concluded. “… We grant transfer at the request of both the plaintiffs and the defendants to clarify that these rules work in harmony and are not in conflict with one another.”

The Supreme Court summarily affirmed the COA’s June opinion in all other respects.

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