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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Two interesting Supreme Court opinions today

Jason Ronco v. State of Indiana concerns jury impasse. In a 5-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Shepard wriites:

We adopted Jury Rule 28 to give trial judges more flexibility in dealing with jury deliberations that come to a standstill. It was premature for the trial court in this case to declare an impasse after receiving a question of law from the jury during deliberations. On the other hand, the trial court did appropriately answer the jury’s legal query under Ind. Code § 34-36-1-6. We affirm. * * *

One juror indicated that he still did not understand the question and the court’s answer, that he “felt that [he] needed to hear [the instruction] again,” and that “it was going to be a long night.” (Id. at 122-23.) Based on this comment, the court declared that the jury had reached an “impasse” under Jury Rule 28 and directed that they be brought back into the courtroom. The court reread Final Instructions 22 and 23 only and asked if this resolved the jury’s confusion. * * *

Rule 28 confers discretionary authority for “further proceedings” only at moments of “impasse,” by which is meant something far closer to a deadlocked jury than occurred here. In this case, jurors simply had a question about the findings necessary to convict Ronco for resisting law enforcement. A question is not an impasse. Nor does one juror’s “long night” comment suffice; indication of an impasse must come from the jury’s leader or from the jury as a whole. It was premature to invoke Rule 28. On the other hand, the court’s action was proper under Ind. Code § 34-36-1-6, which gives trial courts some discretion to assist the jury in its deliberations. Section 34-36-1-6 empowers a court to respond to either juror disagreement over testimony or the jury’s desire “to be informed as to any point of law arising in the case.” The trial court must respond to a jury question regarding a point of law involved in the case, whereas other questions should prompt caution lest the judge exercise undue influence.

Porter County Sheriff's Department v. Rita J. and Douglas Guzorek is a 5-page, 3-2 denial of a petition for rehearing.

In the initial opinion, from Nov. 28, 2006 (see ILB entry here), Justice Boehm wrote for the majority and Chief Justice Shepard wrote a strong dissent, joined by Justice Sullivan. The lineup was the same today. From today's majority opinion:

Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) is the same as Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) for these purposes. We cited Donald v. Cook County Sheriff’s Dept., 95 F.3d 548 (7th Cir. 1996) and Woods v. IUPUI, 996 F.2d 880 (7th Cir. 1993) as federal cases allowing relation back where plaintiffs had incorrectly named immune institutional entities rather than individual defendants. In its petition for rehearing, the Porter County Sheriff Department points to Hall v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 469 F.3d 590 (7th Cir. 2006) (November 9, 2006). This was an FELA case where an injured railroad worker sued only his current employer which had bought the railroad after the injury but did not name the former employer as a defendant. The Seventh Circuit held that an amended complaint could not add the former employer after the statute of limitations had failed because there was no “mistake” under FRCP 15(c)(3) that allowed the amended complaint to relate back to the date of filing of the original complaint. The Seventh Circuit determined that Donald does not apply where the plaintiff has been represented by counsel through litigation. Hall, 469 F.3d at 597. The Seventh Circuit also expressly rejected Woods, holding that “[a] plaintiff’s ignorance or misunderstanding about who is liable for his injury is not a ‘mistake’ as to the defendant’s ‘identity.’” Id. at 596. It recognized Donald and Woods may be inconsistent with its ruling but termed them “outliers.”

We recognize that Hall represents a retrenchment and disapproval of Donald. We think, however, that the original purpose of Rule 15(c) was to permit relation back where an institution rather than an individual public employee was initially sued because of a mistake as to the applicable law. The Indiana Trial Rule was adopted only four years later and used the same language as the federal rule. We recognize, however, that a recent trend in federal courts is to adopt a narrower view of “mistake” in FRCP 15(c)(3). We adhere to the view that the “mistake” requirement of Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) is satisfied when a plaintiff mistakenly sues an immune party if the proper party knows of the suit and knows that an error has been made.

From the Chief Justice's dissent:
The petition for rehearing in this case further demonstrates the extent to which this Court’s interpretation of Trial Rule 15(c)’s “mistake of identity” requirement to allow relation back takes us outside the mainstream of authority. Appellant points us to the fact that the very authority relied on by our majority has recently been reconsidered and rejected by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Seventh Circuit recognized that the position taken by this Court’s dissenters represents the weight of authority and that the majority opinion essentially eviscerates the mistake of identity requirement. * * *

In light of the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Hall, and to remain consistent with the federal courts’ interpretation of the mistake of identity requirement, this Court should grant Porter County Sheriff’s Department’s Petition for Rehearing.

Interestingly, the 7th Circuit's opinion in Hall v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 469 F.3d 590 (7th Cir. 2006) is dated November 9, 2006, while the initial Supreme Court decision is dated Nov. 28, 2006. Hall is out of the ND Ind.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 6, 2007 11:28 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions