« Environment - "Illinois EPA: Communication breakdown in BP oil spill in lake" [Updated] | Main | Ind. Gov't. - "Deal may be near in Indiana stage collapse suit" »

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides two today

Barbara J. Pohl v. Michael G. Pohl, an 11-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

Nearly twenty years ago, our decision in Voigt v. Voigt reserved the question of whether a court may modify a maintenance obligation that originates in a settlement agreement, but rests on grounds such as incapacity that would have permitted an identical award even in the absence of an agreement. 670 N.E.2d 1271, 1280 n.13 (Ind. 1996). That question poses a choice between a rock and a hard place: As Voigt recognized, permitting modification may unjustly upend a delicate balance the parties struck in negotiations with the expectation of finality. Id. at 1278 & n.11. Yet prohibiting it may cause undue hardship to a party who faces unforeseen circumstances.

We conclude that prohibiting modification will cause harsh results somewhat less frequently than the alternative, making it the better of those two unsatisfactory choices. We therefore hold that any maintenance provision in a settlement agreement, regardless of its grounds, is modifiable only if the agreement so provides. But this agreement does so provide—echoing the language of the incapacity maintenance statute by making the agreed maintenance amount subject to “further order of the court” in the alternative to “agreement of the parties.” We therefore reverse the trial court and remand with instructions to apply the incapacity maintenance statute’s “substantial and continuing change in circumstances” standard to the evidence presented at the modification hearing. * * *

Reserving a question, as we did in Voigt, is based on our sense that the issue viewed head on may not align with our initial leanings. That is certainly true here—that despite intimating other-wise in Haville and Ryan, we believe our conclusion in Voigt holds even when a court could have issued an identical maintenance award in the absence of the parties’ agreement. That solution, though imperfect, is preferable to the alternative, which we believe would defy freedom of contract more often than it would save parties from undue hardship. If divorcing parties want to make judicial modification available for their maintenance agreements, they must say so in their contract—as the parties did here.

We therefore reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand with instructions to consider whether, under Indiana Code section 31-15-7-3(1), the evidence established a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that makes the Addendum’s agreed maintenance award unreasonable, and if so, to then determine an appropriate modification.

Oral argument was heard in this case on June 12th. The vacated Court of Appeals opinion, affirming the trial court, was from Nov. 26, 2013.

In Anthonio Hughley v. State of Indiana, The Consolidated City of Indianapolis/Marion County, and The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, a 6-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

Under Indiana Trial Rule 56, summary judgment is precluded by any “genuine” issue of material fact—that is, any issue requiring the trier of fact to resolve the parties’ differing accounts of the truth. Merely resting on the pleadings will not permit the non-movant to raise such an issue, but a competent affidavit will. Here, Defendant’s affidavit was self-serving and none too detailed—but it was competent, and it contradicted the State’s designated evidence on a material fact. It was therefore sufficient to preclude summary judgment, regardless of whether Defendant would likely prevail at trial. We accordingly reverse the trial court. * * *

“Summary judgment should not be granted when it is necessary to weigh the evidence.” Bochnowski v. Peoples Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 571 N.E.2d 282, 285 (Ind. 1991). Because Defendant designated competent evidence in response to the State’s motion for summary judgment, weighing it—no matter how decisively the scales may seem to tip—was a matter for trial, not summary judgment. The trial court’s judgment is therefore reversed, and we remand this matter with instructions to deny the State’s motion for summary judgment.

Transfer was granted in this case on June 13th, vacating a Feb. 20th NFP opinion which had affirmed the trial court. There was no oral argument.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 9, 2014 02:48 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions