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Friday, September 28, 2012

Ind. Courts - Interesting oral argument on administrative procedure

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of St. Joseph Hospital v. Richard Cain. Here was the write-up posted by the Court:

After the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Rights Commission entered a final order in favor of Richard Cain, St. Joseph Hospital filed a petition for judicial review pursuant to the Indiana Administrative Orders and Procedure Act. The petition was timely filed, but the petition was not timely verified, contrary to the requirement in Indiana Code section 4-21.5-5-7. The Allen Superior Court dismissed the petition on grounds it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for instructions for the trial court to consider the hospital's motion to amend the petition to add the verification and whether such an amendment would relate back to the original filing. St. Joseph Hosp. v. Cain, 937 N.E.2d 903 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), vacated. The Supreme Court has granted a petition to transfer jurisdiction.
Nicki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette wrote this quite interesting story:
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s Supreme Court justices heard arguments Thursday about whether the word “must” always means “must.”

Its ruling could decide whether St. Joseph Hospital has further recourse to fight a $31,469 racial discrimination award in favor of Richard Cain by the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Relations Commission. The commission ordered the hospital to cover back pay and other benefits after firing Cain – who is multiracial – for intimidating a co-worker but not firing the white co-worker for bringing a gun to work.

To seek judicial review, the hospital had 30 days to file an appeal in 2010. The hospital met that deadline, but the filing did not contain a verification of truthfulness statement required by the Administrative Orders and Procedures Act.

The trial court dismissed the case as a result, but the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed, allowing St. Joseph to fix the procedural defect. The commission then appealed.

The state’s four Indiana Supreme Court justices – the governor’s latest appointment hasn’t yet taken the bench – seemed conflicted during the oral argument.

Several pointed out that the statute is clear by saying the filing “must” be verified within 30 days. And Justice Robert D. Rucker pointed out there have to be consequences if rules are to mean anything.

“Must means must,” he said.

Others seemed bothered the case could be kicked for omitting a single line in a filing.

Justice Mark Massa said the commission’s argument “elevates form over substance.” He also said other areas of the law allow for these types of procedural amendments.

“We don’t close the courthouse doors to people because they forgot to cross their t’s and dot their i’s,” he said.

Dawn Cummings, attorney for the commission, said repeatedly that the rules have to mean something or it throws the system into flux. For instance, she said the Court of Appeals precedent would allow future judges to ignore other parts of administrative law, such as accepting an appeal that was filed late.

Rucker noted there is a line of cases supporting her position, but two other recent decision cast some doubt, requiring the Indiana Supreme Court to provide clarity.

The justices will rule in the coming months.

Here is the video of the oral argument.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 28, 2012 01:35 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts