Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana

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In this mandate-of-funds action in which the only remaining dispute was over what attorney's fees and expenses the Judges of Lake Superior Court should recover, the Supreme Court affirmed the Special Judge's ruling that the Judges were entitled to recover $176,467.17, holding that the Special Judge did not abuse his discretion. In 2017, fourteen Judges of the Lake Superior Court issued an order of mandate of funds requiring the Lake County Council and the Lake County Auditor (collectively, the Council) to provide funding, including raises, for court employees. A Special Judge heard the case, and the parties subsequently agreed to settle the dispute. The Judges requested $223,234.17 in legal fees and expenses incurred in prosecuting the mandate action. The Special Judge ordered the Council to pay the Judges $176,467.17 for their fees and expenses. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that substantial evidence supported the award to the Judges. View "Lake County Council v. Honorable John R. Pera" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Town of Yorktown’s Clerk-Treasurer, Beth Neff, holding that the State’s request to remove Neff did not fall within the exceptionally rare category of cases that warranted removal. Relying on Indiana Code 5-8-1-35, the Removal Statute, the State sought Neff’s removal for her alleged refusal or neglect to perform the official duties pertaining to her office. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Neff, concluding that Neff had not completely failed to carry out her duties. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) for a public official to be removed pursuant to subsection (a)(2) of the Removal Statute, the State must show that the official has generally failed to perform his or her official duties; and (2) Neff’s failures and errors did not result in such a general failure, and therefore, the removal statute did not apply. View "State v. Neff" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Liability Administrative Law Judge (LALJ) concluding that Driver was Q.D.-A.’s employee under the Unemployment Compensation Act, holding that because Q.D.-A. proved the Act’s three part test, Driver was an independent contractor. Q.D.-A., which matches drivers with customers who need large vehicles driven to them, classified its drivers as independent contractors and did not pay unemployment taxes for them under the Act. The Act presumes a worker is an employee unless the employer proves three factors. Driver in this case filed for unemployment benefits under the Act, and the Department of Workforce Development classified Driver as an employee. The LALJ affirmed the Department’s classification. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the LAJL unreasonably concluded that Driver was Q.D.-A.’s employee when Driver was not under Q.D.-A.’s control or direction, performed a service outside Q.D.-A.’s usual course of business, and ran an independently established business. View "Q.D.-A., Inc. v. Indiana Department of Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court affirming the order of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) finding that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) use of a dam on Appellants’ property was proper, holding that the trial court properly enforced the order but that Appellants could, in the course of complying with the trial court’s order, modify their dam to remove it from the DNR’s jurisdiction under the Dam Safety Act, Ind. Code 14-27-7.5. Appellants had a large pond and related dam on their property. Since the early 2000s, the DNR attempted to exercise jurisdiction over the dam on the grounds that the dam was located in, on, or along a stream. Appellants contested DNR’s findings, largely without success, in administrative tribunals and the courts below. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DNR’s definition of the word “stream” was reasonable, and Appellants had adequate notice of what constitutes a stream for purposes of the Dam Safety Act; (2) the DNR presented substantial evidence supporting its classification of Appellants’ dam as a high-hazard dam; and (3) Appellants could modify their dam to remove it from DNR’s future jurisdiction. View "Moriarity v. Indiana Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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In this property dispute, the Supreme Court retained Indiana’s common-law rule prohibiting the unilateral relocation of fixed easements and affirmed the trial court’s entry of judgment for Joseph DeSpirito on his petition for judicial review and against Richland Convenience Store Partners, LLC (Richland) and the Town of Ellettsville, Indiana Plan Commission (Commission). Despite the opposition of DeSpirito, who owned an adjacent lot, the Commission approved Richland’s request to relocate a utility easement on its lot. On judicial review, the trial court granted summary judgment against Richland and the Commission, finding that DeSpirito had a fixed utility easement through Richland’s lot and that the easement’s fixed location meant it could not be changed by either party without consent of the other. At issue on appeal was whether the Court should adhere to Indiana’s longstanding common-law rule requiring all affected estate-holders to consent to the relocation of a fixed easement or to adopt the position of the Third Restatement of Property (Servitudes), which permits the unilateral relocation of easements if a court finds the proposed relocation is reasonable, consistent with the normal use and development of the servant estate, and does not adversely affect the dominant estate. The Supreme Court rejected the minority approach reflected in the Third Restatement and affirmed. View "Town of Ellettsville, Indiana Plan Commission v. DeSpirito" on Justia Law

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Indiana’s blocked-crossing statute bars railroads from blocking railroad-highway grade crossings for more than 10 minutes, except in circumstances outside the railroads’ control. Ind. Code 8-6-7.5-1. Violations are Class C infractions and carry a minimum $200 fine. In one year, Norfolk Southern collected 23 blocked-crossing citations for violations near its Allen County trainyard. Norfolk argued that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10101, and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) expressly preempt Indiana’s statute. The trial court found that train-switching maneuvers, track congestion, and mechanical defects can all cause traffic blockages lasting more than 10 minutes, and that, to shorten blockages, Norfolk would have to run trains faster, run shorter trains, or “cut” trains into segments—an onerous process that requires more than 10 minutes of reassembly and brake tests. The court granted Norfolk summary judgment on all 23 citations. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Indiana Supreme Court reinstated the trial court decision. Indiana’s blocked-crossing statute is a remedy that directly regulates rail operations, so the ICCTA categorically preempts it. View "State of Indiana v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing the Indiana Utility and Regulatory Commission (the Commission) in this appeal from the Commission’s decision authorizing a rate and charges increase lower than Hamilton Southeastern Utilities, Inc. (HSE) requested. HSE petitioned the Commission to approve an 8.42 percent increase in its charges. The Commission issued an order authorizing only a 1.17 percent increase in HSE’s rates and charges. HSE appealed, arguing that the Commission erred in excluding some expenses from its rates. The court of appeals granted HSE’s motion to dismiss the Commission, concluding that it was not a proper party to the appeal and then found that the Commission erred in excluding some expenses from HSE’s rates. The Supreme Court held (1) the Commission should not have been dismissed; (2) because the court of appeals found that the Commission acted arbitrarily in excluding SAMCO-related expenses from HSE’s rate calculation without giving the Commission an opportunity to defend its order, this issue must be reversed and remanded to the court of appeals with instructions to permit the Commission an opportunity to brief the issue; and (3) the remainder of the court of appeals’ opinion is summarily affirmed. View "Hamilton Southeastern Utilities, Inc. v. Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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At issue was the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s preapproval of approximately $20 million in infrastructure investments, for which the Commission authorized increases to NIPSCO Industrial Group’s natural-gas rates under the mechanism implemented by the so-called “TDSIC” statute. Under the TDSIC statute, a utility can seek regulatory approval of a seven-year plan that designates eligible improvements followed by periodic petitions to adjust rates automatically as approved investments are completed. Some of the largest customers of NIPSCO, an energy utility with more than 800,000 customers in northern Indiana, opposed NIPSCO’s entitlement to favorable rate treatment under the TDSIC statute on the grounds that the disputed projects did not comply with the statute’s requirements. The Commission approved various categories of improvements but did not designate those improvements with specificity. The Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s order in part, holding (1) the TDSIC statute permits periodic rate increases only for specific projects a utility designates, and the Commission approves, at the outset in a utility’s seven-year-plan and not in later proceedings involving periodic updates; and (2) the Commission’s approval of “broad categories of unspecific projects defeats the purpose of having a ‘plan.’” View "NIPSCO Industrial Group v. Northern Public Service Co." on Justia Law

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The Department of Correction’s change to Indian’s lethal injection protocol, which added Brevital to the lethal injection cocktail, does not carry the effect of law, and therefore, the new three-drug protocol is not a rule and thus not subject to the Administrative Rules and Procedures Act (ARPA). In 2014, the Department announced hat it would alter the three-drug combination used for executions, replacing Sodium Thiopental with Brevital. Plaintiff, a death row inmate, filed a complaint alleging that the Department’s change to the lethal injection protocol violated his rights under the ARPA. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the Department’s execution protocol constituted a rule, and because the Department failed to follow ARPA’s requirements when adding Brevital to the three-drug combination, the changed protocol was void. The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals, holding that the Department’s lethal injection protocol did not constitute a “rule” for APRA purposes. View "Ward v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Here, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the longstanding principle that direct production involves a process that includes those steps essential and integral to transforming tangible personal property into a distinct marketable good. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Tax Court affirming the decision of the Department of State Revenue partially denying refund claims submitted by Petitioner for sales tax paid on blast freezing equipment and the electricity used in operating that equipment. Petitioner petitioned the Supreme Court for review, arguing that it qualified for exemptions under the relevant statutes because it engages in “direct production” when it blast freezes another company’s food product and that it engages in its own production process in producing the new, distinct marketable goods. In reversing, the Supreme Court held (1) Petitioner’s blast freezing process constitutes direct production because it represents the crucial final step in creating a distinct marketable good; and (2) the relevant statutes and regulations do not impose a requirement that Petitioner’s blast-freezing procedure be its own, separate production process. View "Merchandise Warehouse Co. v. Indiana Department of State Revenue" on Justia Law