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CoA affirms default judgment

CoA upheld a trial court’s default judgment where the defaulted party committed a series of errors over a period of months. The relevant timeline is as follows:

  • Oct. 23, 2012, Plaintiff files complaint
  • Oct. 27, 2012, Plaintiff personally serves Defendant, who lives across the hall from Plaintiff
  • Dec. 4, 2012, Plaintiff files motion for entry of default
  • Dec. 6, 2012 Defendant admits receiving this motion on this date
  • Dec. 10, 2012 Defendant writes letter to Trial Court requesting additional time to obtain counsel. Letter not received until one week later
  • Dec. 11, 2012 Plaintiff obtains default and matter is set for hearing on Feb. 19, 2013 to assess damages
  • Feb. 19, 2013, at hearing on damages,Defendant does not appear but Trial Court receives letter from him requesting continuance, which Trial Court grants with no further extensions of time
  • March 19, 2013, Defendant again does not appear and Court states it will grant default judgment of ~$40,000
  • After hearing, Trial Court receives letter from Defendant citing jury obligation and requesting another continuance
  • April 1, 2013, Trial Court confirms Defendant did not in fact have to report for jury duty and enters default judgment
  • April 3, 2013, Defendant appears by counsel and files vague motion to set aside one month later, which was denied

While the CoA acknowledged the policy of favoring trying cases on the merits, it could not ignore that Defendant failed to show excusable neglect. CoA further stated that a “lack of personal jurisdiction” argument, if made, would have fallen under Rule 60(B)(6) which was not cited by Defendant.

Ultimately, CoA affirmed default but the case is a rather extreme example of Defendant error in responding to a lawsuit and then asserting vague arguments in attempting to lift the default.

Appeal was not timely filed when movant did not properly seek additional time

Sometimes it is easier (and best) just to file a notice of appeal. After losing custody of his child by court order on January 17, 2013, the following timeline occurred:

  1. Petitioner timely filed his Motion to Correct Error on February 8, 2013.
  2. He then filed a motion for extension of time to file a memorandum of law until March 31, 2013, which the trial court granted.
  3. Petitioner timely filed his memorandum of law on April 1, 2013 (March 31 was a Sunday).
  4. Petitioner then filed his notice of appeal on May 30, 2013.
  5. Notably, petitioner never filed for an extension of time for a ruling.

Based on this timeline and facts, the Court of Appeals determined that the following timeline at law applied:

  1. Motion would have been deemed denied forty-five days after it was filed, i.e., on March 25, 2013.
  2. Pursuant to Trial Rule 53.3(D), the trial court had the power to extend its deadline for ruling only for an additional thirty days, i.e., until April 24, 2013.
  3. Thirty days thereafter, the notice of appeal was due (May 24, 2013).

Without filing for an additional time for a ruling to the Supreme Court under Rule 53.1(D), the Court of Appeals allowed for the maximum amount of time to file an appeal, which was May 24, 2013. Petitioner apparently thought he had thirty days from the date his motion was deemed denied in his eyes, which was around May 14, 2013.

www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/03191409jsk.pdf.

Where Arbitrator’s report was messier than the divorce itself, case was reversed and remanded

In divorce case out of Lake County, parties submitted to arbitration. Arbitrator made ruling and Husband timely appealed after filing a timely motion to correct error that the Court did not address.

IN CoA found that report was inconsistent for several reasons, to wit:

  1. Finding that Wife submitted no evidence of medical condition but was awarded maintenance in the form of health insurance premiums for one year;
  2. Denying Wife’s motion for deviation from 50/50 split and then failing to account for several items of personal property;
  3. After the above defect was subsequently corrected, the CoA still found that the property was split in Wife’s favor and that some bank accounts were still not accounted for.

Court reversed and remanded case to remedy these issues.

www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/03061401jsk.pdf.

Attorneys’ fees not recoverable under Crime Victims’ Act for common law fraud

While Crime Victims Relief Act provides for attorneys’ fees for criminal fraud, elements of common law fraud and burden of proof were different so as to bar a claim for attorneys’ fees under the Act for common law fraud.

www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/03031402ehf.pdf.

Indiana v. IBM

Much as I try to provide analysis of an entire opinion with what time I have, I draw the line at 93 page opinions. Suffice it to say that, the IN CoA found that IBM materially breached its agreement to provide a working welfare infrastructure to the State but . . .

Despite finding a material breach on IBM’s part, we affirm the trial court’s award of $40 million in assignment fees and $9,510,795 in Equipment fees to IBM. We do so because the State and IBM agreed under the terms of the contract that the State would pay these fees. Further, the State would be unjustly enriched if it were to keep IBM’s  equipment and to assume IBM’s subcontracts without paying IBM. We further affirm the trial court’s denial of Deferred Fees to IBM, reverse the trial court’s award of $2,570,621 in Early Termination Close Out Payments and $10,632,333 in prejudgment interest to IBM, and remand the case to the trial court to determine the amount of fees IBM is entitled to for Change Orders 119 and 133. Finally, we remand the case to the trial court to determine the State’s damages for IBM’s material breach of the contract and to offset any damages awarded to IBM. We therefore affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case to the trial court.

www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/02131403nhv.pdf.

Hutchison, et al. v. Trilogy Health Services, LLC (1-30-14)

IN CoA (Kirsch; Friedlander and Bailey concur). Healthcare Law – 3rd Party Guarantor Agreements

Court of Appeals reverses judgment of small claims court. Plaintiff nursing care facility had move-in agreement with defendant’s mother containing 3rd Party/Responsible Agent language where resident could designate party to handle resident’s tab with the facility using resident’s funds. In this case, resident’s daughter (the defendant) was never appointed as agent and was given oral assurances that the move-in agreement did not make her financially liable for her mother’s care. The small claims court disagreed, eventually citing the move-in agreement.

The nursing care facility did not even file an Appellate brief and the CoA reversed the small claims court’s decision. The Court tinkered with the idea of ruling on the legality of 3rd party agent/nursing home agreements but declined and opted to wait another day.

www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/01301407jsk.pdf.

Weinberger v. Estate of Barnes, et al. (12-18-13)

IN CoA (Friedlander; Baker & Vaidik concur)

In this case, a punitive damages verdict was entered against Defendant. The case was subsequently settled but the Indiana Attorney General intervened and opposed the dismissal of the case, using its stake in the punitive damages component as leverage.

In holding that the Attorney General could not intervene or forestall the settlement, the Court of Appeals stated that the State’s interest was limited to the 75% of the funds paid into the clerk’s office on the punitive damages judgment. Essentially, the State had no right to interfere with the settlement of the case and should never have been invited to the table, so to speak, in the first place. Even if there is collusion between the underlying parties to settle for an amount in excess of the compensatory judgment (which was not the case here), the Court noted the State still would not have an interest since the statute is aimed at reining in punitive damage judgments and not at providing a source of revenue for the State.

What does it mean? Any and all Plaintiffs with potential punitive damage claims have one less deterrent from seeking such an award from the jury.

(Disclaimer: I was personally involved with this case for nearly two years so if any personal bias becomes apparent, that is why.)

www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/12181303ehf.pdf.

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