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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides state employees back pay case

In Richmond State Hospital and All Other Similarly Situated State Institutions and Agencies v. Paula Brattain, et al., a 9-page, unsigned per curiam opinion, with Justice Sullivan not participating, the Court writes:

In short summary, for over twenty-five years, the State of Indiana required certain employees to work 40-hour weeks while requiring certain other employees to work only 37.5-hour weeks. Though the employees received the same biweekly paycheck, the effect of the State’s policy was a disparity in actual hourly wage. The State ended the policy in 1993, but this class action was brought on behalf of those 40-hour employees. * * *

We granted transfer, 950 N.E.2d 1211 (Ind. 2011) (table), and of necessity this case is being heard by only four members of this Court. The four participating Justices have cast diverging votes as to the various claims and subclaims delineated above, but cognizant of the need to conclude a case that has now lasted nineteen years, we have attempted to forge a result that will prevent perpetuation of the contest. With those votes largely characterized by a 2-2 division, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals with respect to its determination of the merit employees’ claims. Ind. Appellate Rule 58. The sole exception relates to the State’s contention that laches should bar outright the employees’ claims, which we discuss below. * * *

The State contends that the equitable doctrine of laches operates to bar all of the employees’ claims. The employees do not dispute that laches could apply, arguing instead that the evidence was insufficient to support a ruling in the State’s favor. We think the State’s position goes too far, and we largely reject it, except as to part of the recovery for the non-merit employees. * * *

This brings us to whether this unreasonable delay caused a change in circumstances constituting prejudice to the State. The State contends it was prejudiced to the extent of $42 million—though the amount attributable to non-merit employees reflects only $18.7 million of that total—whereas had the claim been brought earlier, the State “would have been on notice of a problem and would have had an earlier opportunity to respond and limit liability.” * * *

While we think the Attorney General’s contention that laches should bar all claims by all claimants goes a bridge too far, we conclude that the inordinate delay as respects the non-merit claims—filed by amendment forty-five years after they arose—warrants limitation on the damages as to these claims only.

Accordingly, in the context of this particular case and under these particular circumstances, we hold that the back pay recovery of the non-merit employees should be limited in the same manner as the Court of Appeals has set forth for that of the merit employees. See Richmond State Hosp., 939 N.E.2d at 1128. We remand with instructions to recalculate the non-merit employees’ back pay judgment based upon that time period, and summarily affirm the Court of Appeals in all other respects.

ILB: Okay, I've looked at the COA opinion -- somebody is going to have to tell me how this case comes out, $$-wise.

Here is a long list of earlier ILB entries on the case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 16, 2012 10:30 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions