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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides three today, including one certified question from SD Ind. concerning negligent infliction of emotional distress

In Re The Marriage of Virginia (England) Snow v. Steward England is a 7-page, 5-0 opinion by Chief Justice Shepard:

During their marriage, Steward England and Virginia (England) Snow became guardians of Snow’s grandson from a prior marriage. The parties later divorced, submitting a property settlement agreement, which the trial court incorporated into their dissolution decree.

After the dissolution, England remarried, withdrew as guardian, and sought modification of the decree’s section about payments for the benefit of the grandson. The trial court granted modification, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We conclude that termination of guardianship was not grounds for modifying the dissolution decree. * * *

[W]e hold that when a relationship of in loco parentis exists, that status alone is an insufficient basis for imposing a child support obligation on the stand-in parent. * * *

[W]hether the contract provision entitled “Child Support” is characterized as maintenance, child support, or disposition of property, the termination of guardianship has little practical effect. Given the facts and the decree before us, termination of guardianship is not a basis for modifying the dissolution decree.

Conclusion Because England cannot prevail under any interpretation of the decree, we reverse the order of modification and direct the trial court to grant Snow’s motion to dismiss.

In Amy Smith v. James M. Toney and John Christner Trucking Co. Inc., an 11-page opinion on a certified question (including a two-justice concurring opinion), Justice Boehm writes:
Indiana law allows a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress under some limited circumstances even if the plaintiff has suffered no physical injury or impact as a result of the defendant’s negligence. We hold today that although a spouse may assert such a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress a fiancée may not. We also hold that such a claim requires that the plaintiff have learned of the incident by having witnessed the injury or the immediate gruesome aftermath. * * *

In summary, we find that (1) the temporal and relationship determinations under Groves are questions of law; (2) a fiancée is not “analogous to a spouse” under Groves; and (3) “soon after the death of a loved one” is a matter of both time and circumstances.

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, J., concur. Sullivan, J., concurs in result with separate opinion in which Rucker, J., concurs.

I agree that Eli Welch, the plaintiff Amy Smith’s fiancé, was not in a “relationship to the plaintiff analogous to a spouse” and therefore is not entitled to recover under our Groves v. Taylor precedent. As a couple engaged to be married, their relationship had not been legally established by license or ceremony nor was it one of long duration marked by the financial interdependence, intimacy, and other characteristics of the spousal relationship. The majority opinion makes clear that Welch and Smith were not involved in a cohabiting but unmarried relationship. As such, its comments with respect to relationships other than the fiancé-fiancée relationship at issue here are unnecessary to the decision in this case and therefore not precedential.

[ILB note: Reviewing page 7 of the opinion, an unmentioned "elephant in the room" may be same-sex couples.]

In Frankie Salyers v. State of Indiana, an 8-page opinion (dissent beginning on p. 7), Justice Boehm writes:

Frankie Allen Salyers pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the charge of murder for the kill-ing of Goshen City Police Officer Thomas Goodwin. The trial court sentenced Salyers to life without parole. We affirm. * * * Nothing about the nature of the offense or Salyers’s character leads us to find that Salyers’s sentence is inappropriate. * * *

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson and Rucker, JJ., concur. Sullivan, J., dissents with separate opinion [that begins]: The Court here exercises its authority under Article VII, § 4, of the Indiana Constitution and Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B) to review Salyers’s sentence but concludes that life without possibility of parole imposed by the trial court is appropriate. I respectfully disagree.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 13, 2007 11:33 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions