Scott County party barn lawsuit untimely, COA affirms

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A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed for the Scott County Board of Commissioners and other defendants in a dispute brought by a farm owner who dislikes the idea of having a barn event venue constructed next to her home.

In May 2019, Sally Wood filed a complaint against several parties after learning that the Meadow Gathering Place sought to construct a “party barn” event venue on land adjacent to Wood’s Scott County farm where she lives.

The Meadow Gathering Place defendants filed petitions for a conditional use variance and development plan approval with the Scott County Plan Commission and the Scott County Board of Zoning Appeals, and the petitions were approved following a public hearing.

Wood, who attended the meeting, filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari and Stay of Decision and Complaint for Judicial Review naming the Scott County Board of Commissioners, Bob Tobias as President of the Scott County Board of Commissioners, the Scott County Plan Commission, the Scott County Board of Zoning Appeals, and Meadow Gathering Place, Lance R. Stock, Renee K. Stock, Chelsea Watterson, and Garrett Watterson as defendants.

After Wood failed to file the board record within 30 days of her petition pursuant to Indiana Code section 36-7-4-1613(a), the county defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the Jennings Superior Court ultimately granted. Wood subsequently filed an amended complaint and a motion to correct error, but the trial court granted the county defendants’ motion to strike the amended complaint and denied Wood’s motion to correct error.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Sally Ann Wood, et al. v. Scott County Board of Commissioners, et al., 20A-PL-1074, first finding that the trial court did not err by striking her amended complaint and therefore depriving her of her absolute right to amend under Indiana law. The appellate court further noted that it found several cases cited by Wood in her argument to be distinguishable from the case at hand.

“In (State ex rel. Young v. Noble Cir. Ct., 263 Ind. 353, 356, 332 N.E.2d 99, 101 (1975)), the petition was incorrectly captioned. In (Browning v. Walters, 616 N.E.2d 1040 (1993)), the petitioner’s complaint was not verified. Both cases involved the failure to comply with ‘niceties’ that are easily fixed upon amendment. This is not the case with Wood’s failure to file the board record. Wood is unable to fix this procedural error by amending because the trial court does not have discretion ‘with respect to untimely filings,’” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the appellate court.

It additionally found that no amendment made by Wood can cure her failure to file the board record in the judicial review proceeding and her claim will never properly be before the trial court.

“Because no amendment made by Wood could cure her procedural defect … any amendment would be an ‘empty exercise’; therefore, she was not allowed to amend her original petition and the trial court properly struck the pleading,” the panel concluded, finding no error with the trial court’s grant of the defendants’ motion to strike.

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