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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one, re treble-damages

In Ralph Andrews v. Mor/Ryde International, Inc., a 5-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rush writes:

Indiana significantly restricts recovery of common-law punitive damages, including a height-ened burden of proof, a cap on their amount, and diverting 75% of such awards to the State. But we have held those restrictions do not reach statutory treble-damage awards under the Crime Victims Relief Act—and today, we reach the same conclusion as to mandatory “exemplary damage” awards under the Indiana Sales Representative Act. We therefore grant transfer and reverse the trial court. * * *

The Court of Appeals accepted the interlocutory appeal, and a divided panel affirmed the trial court. The majority accepted Mor/Ryde’s reasoning that the terms “exemplary” and “punitive” are often used interchangeably to denote damages awarded not to compensate the claimant, but to punish the defendant—and that because exemplary damages under the Sales Representative Act meet that definition, they must be subject to the Punitive Damages Act. Judge Barnes dissented, agreeing with Andrews that the Act applies only to discretionary common-law punitive damage awards, not statutory damage awards like the Sales Representative Act—relying on our holding in Obremski v. Henderson that similar treble-damage awards as a civil remedy for certain crime victims are “regarded as distinct from recovery of common law punitive damages,” and thus not limited by the Act. 497 N.E.2d 909, 911 (Ind. 1986). We agree with Judge Barnes, and therefore grant transfer and reverse the trial court. * * *

Like Judge Barnes, we “cannot discern why a different rule should apply to an award of treble damages under the [Sales Representative Act]” than the rule Obremski applied to such damages under the Crime Victims Relief Act. We therefore grant transfer, hold that treble damages under the Sales Representative Act are not subject to the Punitive Damages Act, and accordingly reverse the trial court.

ILB: Here is the Jan. 29, 2014 opinion of the Court of Appeals.

Here is an interesting paragraph from Justice Rush's opinion today, on pp. 4-5, refering to the doctrine of legislative acquiescence:

Finally, the Legislature could readily have abolished Obremski’s distinction between common law and statutory punitive damages as part of the major 1995 amendments to the Punitive Damages Act, but it chose not to do so. While a single decision of this court may not be enough to establish “legislative acquiescence,” see Durham ex rel. Estate of Wade v. U-Haul Int’l, 745 N.E.2d 755, 768 (Ind. 2001) (Rucker, J., dissenting), we find it instructive that an amendment that dramatically increased the reach of the Punitive Damages Act nevertheless did not include a change extending it to encompass statutory treble damages.
A quick search of the ILB reveals several other opinions referencing this doctrine, two of them Supreme Court opinions from 2006.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 19, 2014 03:44 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions