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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Dennis Jack Horner v. Marcia (Horner) Carter, a 4-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Dickson writes:

When the parties' marriage was dissolved in 2005, the trial court approved a settlement agreement reached by the parties following mediation. In 2011, the husband initiated the present proceeding, seeking in part "to modify the maintenance provision in the Settlement Agreement," in order to terminate his liability for monthly housing payments to the wife after her remarriage. At the evidentiary hearing the trial court excluded from evidence the husband’s testimony regarding statements he claimed to have made to the mediator during the mediation process, and thereafter denied the husband’s request for modification of his monthly housing payment obligation. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of relief, but opined that the trial court’s exclusion of the husband’s testimony was in error, albeit harmless error. Horner v. Carter, 969 N.E.2d 111, 118 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). We granted transfer thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion, except for those portions that are summarily affirmed herein. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)(2). * * *

The Court of Appeals concluded that the husband's statements during the mediation could be admitted as extrinsic evidence to aid in the construction of an ambiguous agreement. We disagree. Indiana judicial policy strongly urges the amicable resolution of disputes and thus embraces a robust policy of confidentiality of conduct and statements made during negotiation and mediation.[1] The benefits of compromise settlement agreements outweigh the risks that such policy may on occasion impede access to otherwise admissible evidence on an issue. * * *
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[1] The decision of the Court of Appeals, which we have vacated, expressed approval of a different approach presented in the Uniform Mediation Act ("UMA") drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. For the purpose of preserving traditional contract defenses, the UMA would permit disclosure and discovery of conduct and statements during mediation if not otherwise available, and subject to a cautious balancing to ascertain whether the need for such evidence substantially outweighs the interest in protecting confidentiality. * * * Indiana has not adopted the UMA, and we decline to follow its approach to mediation confidentiality at this time. The Court acknowledges that efforts are presently underway by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Indiana State Bar Association and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana to review and possibly propose modifications to the Indiana Rules for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 12, 2013 02:23 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions