Lake County property buyer wins appeal after township altered building

A Lake County court ruling for a township that removed light fixtures and historical artifacts from a building it sold after the property had already been purchased was reversed by the Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday.

In 2016, a building owned by Calumet Township of Lake County was put up for sale and ultimately purchased by The 487 Broadway Company.

The township sold the property “as is” and 487 Broadway paid the purchase price of $72,100 in full. After 487 Broadway had already paid, but before the closing date, the township removed several pieces from the property, including lighted signs that had been affixed to the exterior of the building and pictures and artifacts that had been secured to interior walls.

487 Broadway argued with the township about the removals and the changed condition of the property, but the township denied any wrongdoing and the property’s closing proceeded as scheduled.

As a result, 487 Broadway filed a complaint for negligence and breach of contract in the trial court alleging that the township had “caused property damage” to the exterior of the building when it removed the light fixtures, causing the building to look vandalized and vacated. It also argued that the township had removed “historical pictures and artifacts” that 487 Broadway asserted were part of the full purchase.

The Lake Superior Court, in response to the township’s motion to dismiss the complaint, issued an order informing the parties that it would consider the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. It then gave 487 Broadway 20 days to file a reply. The trial court later granted the township’s motion for summary judgment without a hearing and rejected 487 Broadway’s motions to correct error and reconsider.

In a reversal, the Indiana Court of Appeals first concluded that the trial court misapplied the law when it gave 487 Broadway only 20 days to respond to the township’s motion for summary judgment.

Under Rule 56(C), ‘[a]n adverse party shall have thirty (30) days after service of the motion to serve a response and any opposing affidavits.’ Our Supreme Court has made clear that the Indiana Trial Rules impose a bright-line rule in summary judgment proceedings. … Under Rule 56(C), the trial court did not have the authority to shorten 487 Broadway’s response time to less than thirty days,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the appellate court.

It also found a misapplication of the law when the trial court mischaracterized 487 Broadway’s motion to stay pending discovery as a Trial Rule 56(C) “response,” and when it did not rule on 487 Broadway’s motion to stay and for additional time to conduct discovery.

Further, the Township did not designate any evidence in support of its motion for summary judgment that would be admissible at trial,” Najam wrote for the unanimous court. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment in favor of the Township and that the court abused its discretion when it denied 487 Broadway’s motion to correct error.”

The appellate panel therefore reversed the entry of summary judgment and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions for the court to vacate all orders subsequent and relevant to the township’s motion to dismiss.

Should the Township submit a motion for summary judgment that complies with Trial Rule 56(C), including the proper designation of evidence and undisputed material facts, we further instruct the court to allow 487 Broadway, as the nonmovant, a full thirty days to respond,” the appellate court concluded.

The case is The 487 Broadway Company, LLC v. Kimberly K. Robinson, et al., 19A-PL-1499.

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