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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ind Decisions - Supreme Court issues one today

In Joseph Wysocki and M. Carmen Wysocki v. Barbara A. Johnson and William T. Johnson, both Individually and as Trustees of the Barbara A. Johnson Living Trust dated 12-17-1996, an 8-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

Even when a plaintiff proves a predicate crime under the Crime Victims Relief Act (CVRA), the trial court has discretion not to award exemplary damages when it thinks the conduct is not egregious enough to warrant punishment. And when a plaintiff pleads several alternative grounds for relief, the trial court has similar discretion not to impose CVRA liability at all, even when it awards compensatory damages under a different theory. Accordingly, the trial court here acted within its discretion to compensate Plaintiffs for their common-law damages, while also refusing to award attorney fees or exemplary damages under the CVRA. We granted transfer to clarify that point and reiterate several principles about CVRA liability. We affirm the trial court, though for different reasons than the Court of Appeals. * * *

A knowing misrepresentation on a Sales Disclosure Form is an intentional tort. But not every intentional tort is necessarily “so heinous as to require exemplary damages,” Citizens Nat. Bank, 637 N.E.2d at 195, or as to warrant quasi-criminal CVRA liability at all. In other words, not every intentional tortfeasor is a criminal. CVRA liability does not depend on whether the tortfeasor has been charged with or convicted of the CVRA predicate offense, nor even solely on the elements of the CVRA predicate offense. Instead, liability is also a matter of the factfinder’s discretionary judgment of whether the defendant is criminally culpable. When a court does impose CVRA liability, an award of costs and reasonable attorney fees is mandatory by the terms of the statute, even though additional exemplary damages remain discretionary. But when given a choice, the court need not impose CVRA liability when it believes ordinary tort liability will do. The trial court acted well within its discretion to make that judgment in this case, and we affirm its judgment.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 15, 2014 01:49 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions