Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana

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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

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Under Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5, no family case manager at the Indiana Department of Child Services can oversee more than 17 children at a time who are receiving services. The statute does not require the Department to perform any specific, ministerial acts for achieving that number. Price, a family case manager, filed a proposed class action. She alleged that her caseload was 43 children and sought an “order mandating or enjoining [D]efendants to take all necessary steps to comply with [Section 5].” The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Price’s claim prior to class certification. Judicial mandate is an extraordinary remedy—available only when the law imposes a clear duty upon a defendant to perform a specific, ministerial act and the plaintiff is clearly entitled to that relief. The statute at issue does not impose a specific, ministerial duty. View "Price v. Indiana Department of Child Services; Director of Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

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When an individual reported child abuse, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) told the reporter that his report was confidential. The Department however, released the report without redacting the identity of the reporter. The reporter and his family sued DCS for negligently disclosing the reporter’s identity, claiming that the statute requiring DCS to protect reporter identity - Ind. Code 31-33-18-2 (section 2) - implies a private right of action and that DCS created a common-law duty of confidentiality. The trial court granted summary judgment for DCS. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that DCS owed Plaintiffs a common-law “private duty” based on a hotline worker’s “promise” of confidentiality. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals decision, and held (1) section 2 provides no private right of action; and (2) there is no common law basis to impose a duty on DCS. View "John Doe #1 v. Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dismissing this action brought by the Board of Commissioners of Union County (Union County) seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction against the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Department itself (collectively, INDOT). In the action, Union County alleged that INDOT was negligent in its highway repair efforts, causing damage to the septic systems of three landowners in Union County. The trial court granted INDOT's motion to dismiss, concluding that Union County did not have standing to sue INDOT for injury done to its residents. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in dismissing the action because Union County failed to plead any viable theory of standing to support its alleged cause of action. View "Board of Commissioners of Union County v. McGuinness" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order directing the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to grant Spirited Sales, LLC’s (Spirited) application for a liquor wholesaler’s permit and reinstated the Commission’s order denying the permit. Spirited was a wholly owned by a parent company called E.F. Transit, Inc. (EFT), which transports beer, wine, and liquor throughout the state. The same shareholders that owned EFT also wholly owned Monarch Beverage Company, Inc, an Indiana company that held a beer and wine wholesaler’s permit. The Commission denied Spirited’s application on the grounds that EFT and Monarch operated as the same company. The trial court reversed, finding the Commission’s order to be arbitrary and capricious. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commission, holding that the Commission’s denial conformed with the clear and unambiguous language of Ind. Code 7.1-1-2-1 and that the Commission did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in denying Spirited’s request. View "Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission v. Spirited Sales, LLC" on Justia Law

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Kristy Burnell’s driver’s license was administratively suspended on the grounds that Burnell failed to submit to a chemical test. Burnell sought judicial review. The trial court declined to set aside the suspension, concluding that the arresting officer correctly determined Burnell’s behavior to constitute a refusal. Burnell appealed, arguing that she never verbally refused to take a chemical test and that her conduct did not constitute refusal to submit to a chemical test. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a reasonable person in the officer’s position would be justified in believing that Burnell manifested an unwillingness to submit to the test. View "Burnell v. State" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to 2011 amendments to statutes addressing collective bargaining for teachers and their employees, when parties failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) regarding salaries and wages, the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (IEERB) appoints a mediator. If the mediation fails, the parties must exchange their last best offers (LBOs). A factfinder appointed by the IEERB then selects which side’s LBO to adopt as the CBA. In this case, a teachers association appealed a factfinder’s decision to adopt a school’s LBO. The IEERB affirmed the factfinder’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the adopted LBO was collectively bargained and lawful. View "Jay Classroom Teachers Ass’n v. Jay School Corp." on Justia Law