Articles Posted in Appeals

On January 11, 2019, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly denied appellant RCM Phoenix Partners LLC’s (“Phoenix”) slander of title claim, even though the appellee 2007 East Meadows, LP (“Meadows”) failed to raise a claim of absolute privilege at the trial court level and raised it for the first time on appeal.

Due to complications surrounding an assignment of a purchase agreement and assumption of an existing mortgage of an apartment community (“Property”) to Meadows, the parties were unable to close on the Property. Meadows sued Phoenix in Texas, alleging that Phoenix breached the purchase agreement and committed fraud. Meadows filed a lis pendens notice against the property of the pending Texas lawsuit. The trial court in Texas dismissed the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction, but a second suit in Indiana, where Phoenix countersued and added a slander of title claim to its complaint continued. In Meadows’ answer, it did not assert that the lis pendens notice was privileged. Meadows first raised the claim of absolute privilege upon Phoenix’s appeal of a trial court decision that found in favor of Phoenix’s claim for retention of the earnest money but found in favor of Meadows for the slander of title claim.

The Court of Appeals noted that while the general rule is that an argument or issue raised for the first time on appeal is waived and thus ineligible for appellate review, the trend in recent Indiana Supreme Court cases is to allow an appellee seeking affirmance of a trial court’s judgment to defend the trial court’s ruling on any basis, including with arguments not raised at trial. Here, because Meadows was the appellee and sought an affirmance of the trial court’s decision to deny the slander of title claim, the Court of Appeals held that Meadows had not waived the right to argue that it had absolute privilege from a slander of title claim.

On June 1, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to review an order issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) holding that an operating company that withdrew from a “multi-state energy system” had to continue sharing benefits from a settlement with the other system members, even after it withdrew from the system.

In 1951, six companies from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi formed the Entergy Corporation, a publicly held utility company intended to share the costs and benefits of generating and transmitting power. The system agreement provided members the option to withdraw so long as the member gave an eight-year notice. Entergy Arkansas announced on December 19, 2005 that it intended to withdraw on December 18, 2013. In 2008, Entergy Arkansas settled state litigation against Union Pacific, which included a below-market rate for coal delivery as part of the settlement. Under the system agreement, all members realized some of the increased costs as a result of Union Pacific’s breach of contract, and they also realized the benefits of the reduced rate following the settlement.

In 2009, FERC approved both withdrawal notices, and held that neither Entergy Arkansas nor Entergy Mississippi should have to pay an exit fee to the other members. FERC held in subsequent proceedings that the settlement benefits should be allocated among the members and adopted a methodology for doing so.

On June 27, 2018, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion establishing that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (“Commission”) is a proper party to an appeal of a Commission order. Hamilton Se. Utils., Inc. v. Indiana Util. Reg. Comm’n, No. 93A02-1612-EX-2742, 2018 Ind. LEXIS 496, at *1-12 (Ind. June 27, 2018).  Interestingly, the Commission had participated as a party in appeals of its orders without controversy until relatively recently, when parties began to challenge its standing to be a party in several appellate proceedings

This matter began in September 2015 when Hamilton Southeastern Utilities, Inc. (“HSE”) requested a rate increase from the Commission. HSE sought an 8.42% increase in rates, but the Commission only authorized a rate increase of 1.17%, partially because the Commission said that HSE should eliminate outsourcing expenses. Id. at *3-4. HSE appealed the order, initially naming the Commission as a party. HSE then moved to dismiss the Commission, claiming “it had mistakenly identified the Commission as a party” and that the Commission should not be a party because it had “acted as a fact-finding administrative tribunal.” Hamilton Se. Utils., Inc. v. Indiana Util. Reg. Comm’n., 85 N.E.3d 612, 617 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017).  The Court of Appeals granted the motion, reasoning that the Commission had adjudicated a rate case where the parties appearing before the Commission advocated for competing interests, and the Commission’s order “should speak for itself, without the need to further rationalize its decision.” Id. at 619. The Court of Appeals went on to affirm a number of the Commission’s decisions in calculating the 1.17% increase, but it held that the Commission arbitrarily excluded outsourcing expenses from that rate calculation. Id. at 626.

The Supreme Court granted transfer to review the question of whether the Commission was a proper party to the appeal of its order. The Court held that it was a proper party because it is a “long-standing custom and practice” to treat the Commission as a proper party to appeals of its orders, and the legislature had acquiesced to that practice. Hamilton Se. Utils., Inc, 2018 Ind. LEXIS 496, at *6.The Court noted that other “similarly situated executive branch agencies enjoy the ability to defend their decisions on appeal, both through explicit legislative directive” and through “legislative acquiescence to custom and practice.” Id. at *8. Furthermore, the Court said that public policy supports allowing the Commission to defend its orders on appeal in the interests of not disturbing a long-standing custom, promoting efficiency in the appeals process, and allowing the Commission to adequately represent its interests since opposing parties in a ratemaking case do not necessarily represent all of the Commission’s interests in defending its order. Id. at *10. Finally, the Court noted that the Commission’s role in the ratemaking case is administrative, not adjudicative, and therefore HSE’s argument that the Commission could not be a party because it adjudicated the proceedings failed. Id. at *11.

On December 16, 2016, the Court of Appeals found that “the reasonable necessity of an intersection expansion outweighed whatever injurious effect that expansion would have on an electric utility’s enjoyment of its easement.” Duke Energy Indiana, LLC v. City of Franklin, 41A01-1607-CT-1549, at 23. Duke Energy Indiana, LLC (“Duke”) had an easement for the transmission of electrical energy in the area of the City of Franklin’s proposed traffic plan, which would connect a four-lane state road to two city streets. Duke, believing that the plan would unreasonably interfere with its easement rights, filed for a preliminary injunction. The trial court denied the request, finding that Duke failed to establish unreasonable interference, and therefore, failed to show a reasonable likelihood of success at trial. Duke asserted that the increased volume and speed of traffic proceeding past the utility pole, located adjacent to and just northwest of the proposed intersection, would increase the hazard to maintenance and repair crews. The trial court found that Duke did not show material impairment, unreasonable interference, or irreconcilable conflict. Instead, the trial court found that Duke essentially argued that to repair and maintain the utility pole and transmission lines, Duke’s crews would interfere with the public’s use of the road. While the court found this concern valid, it did not address the issue of Duke’s use, and the need for additional traffic measures was not found to equate unreasonable interference with Duke’s easement. Duke appealed.

The Court of Appeals addressed Duke’s two claims related to its contention of a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits at trial: (1) the City should not be able to expand the intersection because it does not have adequate property interests in portions of the land and (2) the proposed expansion of the intersection unreasonably burdens its rights pursuant to the easement. The Court of Appeals found that the first claim was essentially a trespass action. However, as an easement holder, Duke lacked standing to maintain an action for trespass for invasion of a right of way or easement. As for the second claim, the Court found that the proposed intersection was a reasonably necessary use of the City’s right-of-way, as it will beautify the corridor, enhance safety, and spur growth. Duke would still be able to repair and maintain the transmission lines and utility poles by simply using additional traffic measures. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that the reasonable necessity of the expansion outweighed the injury to Duke’s enjoyment of its easement.

Jeremy Fetty is a partner in the law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse with offices in Lebanon and Indianapolis. He often advises businesses and utilities (for profit, non-profit and cooperative) on organizational, human resources, and transactional matters and drafts and reviews commercial contracts.

In a March 2014 decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals found an individual complied with Indiana’s statutory notice requirements to properly obtain a tax deed by sending notices by certified mail1, even though signature upon delivery was not requested, return receipt was not requested, and there was no evidence that delivery of the notice was tracked or verified. Gupta v. Busan, No. 87A01-1307-MI-340, 2014 WL 880697, at *4 (Ind. Ct. App. March 6, 2014). The Court also determined that the notice provided had been reasonably calculated to inform the property owner of the tax sale and petition for tax deed. Id.
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In Dep’t of Waterworks v. Community School Corp. of Southern Hancock County, the Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed the trial court’s holding that a school may connect a new facility to an existing water main through the use of a service pipe instead of using a water main extension. Dep’t of Waterworks for Consol. City of Indianapolis v. Cmty. Sch. Corp. of S. Hancock County, 933 N.E.2d 880 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). The Court of Appeals relied on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s (IURC) determination that the “the [Water Company’s departmental] rules do not preclude the School from connecting a service pipe to its new facility from an existing main.”

The Indianapolis Department of Waterworks unsuccessfully argued that the IURC’s decision was contrary to law because the School’s new facility “does not abut an existing main as required…by the rules.” The Department of Waterworks also argued against the IURC’s factual determinations concerning the economical decision by the school. According to the estimates for the project, it would have cost the School approximately $412,000 if a new main was constructed. In contract, connection of a service pipe to an existing water main would only cost the School approximately $168,000.
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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently shed more light on what constitutes a “special relationship” necessary for a plaintiff to establish constructive fraud without proving the five traditional elements of constructive fraud. American Heritage Banco, Inc. v. Cranston, 928 N.E.2d 239 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

Indiana case law on constructive fraud is, quite frankly, a mess. There are at least two types of constructive fraud. One form of constructive fraud requires five elements. The five elements include:

(i) a duty owing by the party to be charged to the complaining party due to their relationship; (ii) violation of that duty by the making of deceptive material misrepresentations of past or existing facts or remaining silent when a duty to speak exists; (iii) reliance thereon by the complaining party; (iv) injury to the complaining party as a proximate result thereof; and (v) the gaining of an advantage by the party to be charged at the expense of the complaining party.
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Indiana utilities and Indiana utility lawyers should be aware that the Indiana Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to consider the standard of review that courts follow in reviewing utility regulatory settlements of an administrative agency. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. U.S. Steel, 907 N.E.2d 1012 (Ind. 2009). The case involved a dispute regarding a settlement agreement entered into between an Indiana public utility and a steel production facility. The agreement arose out of a previous dispute between the two parties, and had been submitted to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (“IURC”) at the time for approval. However, years later when a provision of the agreement became effective, there was a disagreement between the parties regarding its interpretation. U.S. Steel filed a complaint with the IURC seeking to enforce its interpretation of the agreement, and the IURC ultimately granted summary judgment to U.S. Steel on this issue. Id. at 1015 However, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, and the Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer. Id.

In hearing the case, the Indiana Supreme Court discussed the standards of review which apply when considering decisions of administrative agencies. Id. at 1016. The Court stated that such reviews were multi-tiered, the first level of review being “whether there is substantial evidence in light of the whole record to support the Commission’s findings of basic fact.” Id. (citing Citizens Action Coalition of Ind., Inc. v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 485 N.E.2d 610, 612 (Ind. 1985)). The Court noted that decisions of the IURC will stand under this standard “unless no substantial evidence supports it.” Id. (citing McClain v. Review Bd. of Ind. Dept. of Workforce Dev., 693 N.E.2d 1314, 1317-18 (Ind. 1998)). Under the standard, a court does not reweigh evidence or assess witness credibility but only considers evidence in a light most favorable to the IURC’s findings. Id.
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Here is a case that could describe many farmers and other businessmen retaining independent contractors. It is summer time and paint crews travel from farm to farm offering to paint grain bins or other outbuildings. Almost every farmer owning grain bins will have had this experience and many of us have hired the crews to perform painting tasks. Do you also require the contractor to produce or sign a certificate of insurance that the contractor has insurance, including workers’ compensation insurance for their employees? My guess is that many farmers seal the deal verbally and move on after the price is agreed upon. Read on….

Indiana Supreme Court has granted transfer of a case involving Indiana’s workers’ compensation statute and a farmer’s insurance policy which aimed at excluding the farmer’s liability coverage. Everett Cash Mutual Insurance Company vs. Rick Taylor and Katrina Taylor, No. 02A03-0808-CV-386 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), transfer granted (September 3, 2009).

In Everett, a farmer employed an independent contractor business to paint his house, grain bin, and barn. The farmer did not check to see if the business carried workers’ compensation insurance for its employees and in fact they did not. One of the business’ employees came into contact with an electrical wire while painting and was injured.

The employee initially filed a workers’ compensation claim against the independent contractor business, but he discovered the business had no such insurance. He then amended his complaint to name the farmer, alleging the farmer failed to verify whether the independent contractor business had workers’ compensation insurance pursuant to Indiana Code 22-3-2-14(b). At no time did the employee file any tort-related claims against the farmer.
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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reviewed the enforceability of a three-year, 50-mile radius non-compete agreement for a physician in Mercho-Roushdi-Shoemaker-Dilley Thoraco-Vascular Corporation v. Blatchford, 900 N.E.2d 786 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). Indiana business lawyers and their clients will benefit from the clarification offered by the Court. The case is noteworthy because the court held the non-compete agreement to be unenforceable, not because of the enormous geographical area, but solely because the particular physician was uniquely qualified to provide cardiovascular services in Terre Haute and the patients in Terre Haute would be harmed if the court enforced the non-compete clause.

Mercho-Roushdi-Shoemaker-Dilley Thoraco-Vascular Corporation (“MRSD”) is a physician group practice that provides cardiovascular medical services in both Indianapolis and Terre Haute. Blatchford was a shareholder of MRSD and a cardiovascular surgeon employed by MRSD who signed non-compete agreements pursuant to both his shareholder agreement and his employment agreement. Both non-compete agreements prohibited Blatchford from competing with MRSD or performing cardiovascular medical services for three years within a 50-mile radius around Terre Haute and a 50-mile radius around Indianapolis. After a dispute arose and MRSD terminated Blatchford’s employment, MRSD brought suit to enforce the non-compete agreement and requested a preliminary injunction to prohibit Blatchford from practicing in Terre Haute.
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