Multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Indianapolis apartment complex can proceed, COA rules

A pro se litigant who filed a $2.5 million lawsuit in Marion Superior Court using a small claims form will be able to seek damages from her landlord after the Court of Appeals of Indiana found res judicata did not bar all her claims.

Takila Walker filed a handwritten complaint in November 2019 in Marion County Small Claims Court against the landlords of the apartment she was leasing. She sought $8,000 in damages from Herman & Kittle Properties Inc. and Washington Pointe Apartments in Indianapolis.

Walker’s amended notice listed claims for “inhabitable (sic) living conditions, wrongful use of power, harassment, emotional distress, pain [and] suffering, attorney fees, court costs, humiliation, knowingly aware of employee contributing alcohol and narcotics to my minor children, move out at their total expense, days loss of pay from work.”

While her small claims case was pending, Walker filed a complaint in July 2020 in Marion Superior Court against her landlords. Court documents show Walker used a small claims court form, scribbling out the word “small” and writing in that the defendants owed her $2.5 million.

Her complaint asserted the damages were for “(i)nhabitable (sic) living conditions, wrongful use of power, knowingly intentional torture, [g]ross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, constructive eviction, mental anguish, nuisance, breach of implied warranty of habitability, breach of contract, pain [and] suffering, voluntary acts against my health, attorney costs, intentional disregard of my (family’s) health, punitive damages, [and] personal injury.”

The landlords filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(8). They argued the trial court should dismiss Walker’s complaint because the same action was pending in small claims court.

By the time Marion Superior conducted a trial, the small claims court had decided that Walker had failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the apartment was uninhabitable or that she was constructively evicted. The landlords argued to the trial court that Walker had initiated two similar lawsuits against them, and the only difference was the amount of damages. Walker countered that the small claims court had only ruled on a portion of her claims and had advised that the issues pertaining to her health were out of its jurisdiction.

The Marion Superior Court granted the motion to dismiss. Walker appealed, arguing the ruling ran afoul of the principles of res judicata.

In Takila Walker v. Herman & Kittle Properties, Inc. and Washington Pointe Apartments, 21A-CT-284, the Court of Appeals agreed.

“The judgment of the Small Claims Court was limited solely to damages caused to Walker based on her claim that her apartment was uninhabitable, and the Small Claims decided nothing with regard to her other issues,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “Although Walker raised similar allegations in both actions, we find that the unappealed small claims order was res judicata only in relation to whether the Appellees breached the implied warranty of habitability. The order was not a judgment ‘on the merits’ sufficient to bar Walker’s other claims in her current action.”

Judge Elaine Brown wrote a separate concurring opinion, clarifying that on remand only the claim of “voluntary acts against my health” remains. As part of her appeal, Walker did not make an argument as to the other claims, so she has waived the viability of those claims.

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