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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues two today

In William E. Hunter v. State of Indiana, a 4-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Boehm writes:

Hunter argues that this sentence violated his Sixth Amendment rights under Blakely v. Washing-ton, 542 U.S. 296 (2004) because the trial court improperly enhanced his sentence based on an aggravator that was required to be found by a jury. Specifically, Hunter claims that as part of his “criminal history” the trial court improperly considered prior dismissed criminal charges to en-hance his sentence. * * * We need not address that issue because we conclude that we should exercise our authority under Article VII, Sections 4 and 6 of the Indiana Constitution and Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B) to revise the sentence to the presumptive (now advisory) four years. * * *

Hunter’s pre-sumptive sentence was doubled from four to eight years based on unrelated and relatively insignificant prior convictions. We conclude that neither the nature of the offense nor the character of the offender supports an enhanced sentence. Conclusion Hunter’s sentence is revised to a term of four years. We summarily affirm on all issues not addressed in this opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)(2).

In Joseph Glotzbach, CPA v. Jacqueline L. Froman, an 8-page, 5-o opinion, Justice Boehm writes:
We hold that an employee whose injuries are covered by the Worker’s Compensation Act has no claim against the employer for spoliation of evidence related to that incident. The legislature is, of course, free to provide a different rule if it concludes otherwise. * * *

In the case at bar, the Court of Appeals perceived the principal issue as one of duty to preserve the evidence. The Court of Appeals therefore reviewed the three factors set forth in Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E.2d 992, 995 (Ind. 1991) to determine whether such a duty existed. Glotzbach, 827 N.E.2d at 109. After balancing the relationship between the parties, the reason-able foreseeability of harm to the person injured, and public policy concerns, the Court of Ap-peals found a “special relationship” between Midwest and Froman sufficient to distinguish the facts from those in Murphy and to recognize a duty on the part of Midwest to preserve the evidence from the explosion. Id. We disagree with this conclusion for the reasons detailed below and hold that existing case law and public policy dictate refusal to recognize an independent cause of action under the circumstances presented by this case. * * *

IOSHA’s instruction to retain the debris made no reference to the need to preserve the evidence for Froman’s use in private litigation. Otherwise stated, to the extent IOSHA’s request created any duty to preserve the evidence, it was a duty owed to IOSHA not to Froman or his Estate.

The Estate, citing again to Thompson, next argues that the foreseeability of harm caused by the failure to retain the pump supports the recognition of a duty in this case. * * * Darling was not collecting evidence when he gathered his equipment and the debris from the explosion site. Rather, he was cleaning up material already owned and possessed by Midwest. “Mere owner-ship of potential evidence, even with knowledge of its relevance to litigation, does not suffice to establish a duty to maintain such evidence.” * * *

Finally, and most importantly, as in Gribben we think the policy considerations are the controlling factor in refusing to recognize spoliation as a tort under these circumstances. * * * It is in the employer’s interest to preserve evidence that may aid in pursuing these subrogation rights against the manu-facturer.

The disadvantages we identified in first-party spoliation claims remain concerns as to third-party claims. * * * Without a strong showing of need, we should not impose an obligation to retain useless equipment indefinitely or to refrain from repairing equipment necessary to conduct the employer’s business.

In sum, we conclude that the problems inherent in recognizing spoliation claims under these circumstances outweigh any perceived advantages.

Conclusion. The order of the trial court denying Midwest’s motion to dismiss is reversed. The case is remanded with instruction to dismiss the Estate’s claim for spoliation.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 26, 2006 12:40 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions