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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides two today

In Michelle Gauvin v. State of Indiana, an 11-page, 4-1 opinion, in a case argued Nov. 14, 2007, Chief Justice Shepard writes:

Appellant Michelle Gauvin pled guilty to the confinement, neglect, and murder of her four-year-old stepdaughter. The trial court imposed life without parole.

Gauvin’s sentence rests in part on a finding that she tortured the child. Gauvin contends she was correcting the child’s misbehavior. Parental supervision is crucial to rearing children, but the duration and severity of the pain and suffering Michelle’s stepdaughter endured adequately established torture as an aggravating circumstance.

Gauvin also claims that her sentence is inappropriate. We affirm. * * *

Dickson, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Sullivan, J., dissents with separate opinion [which begins] I respect the analysis of Michelle’s sentence by the trial court and my colleagues and agree with it in many respects. But this Court has never affirmed a sentence of life without possibility of parole for a mother who has pled guilty to killing her child or stepchild and I do not believe we should do so here.

In Virginia Hartman and Suzanne Swinehart v. Dr. Gabe Keri, a 12-page opinion, in a case argued Nov. 24, 2007, Justice Boehm writes:
We hold complaints made by a current student pursuant to a university anti-harassment policy are protected by an absolute privilege and cannot serve as the basis for civil liability to a person who is the subject of the complaint. * * *

At least three states have held that communications to school authorities raising complaints against educators enjoy the same absolute privilege the law accords to statements in judicial proceedings. * * *

Hartman and Swinehart acted under the procedure Purdue established. Protecting their complaints with anything less than an absolute privilege could chill some legitimate complaints for fear of retaliatory litigation. Other faculty-student disputes would result in traditional litigation rather than academic resolution to avoid any risk of loss of the absolute privilege accorded statements in judicial proceedings. A university should be given the latitude to tailor its processes to the educational environment without degrading the protection the law gives to com-plaints of misconduct in the educational setting. * * *

This case is remanded to the trial court with instructions to grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

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

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 1, 2008 12:26 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions