« Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides two 4th Am. Indiana cases yesterday via a consolidated opinion | Main | Ind. Courts "Court E-Filing Rolls Out In First Indiana County" »

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides two Indiana cases today, reversing one, and affirming the other (which involved the Lauren Spier case)

In Chontel Miller v. Polaris Laboratories LLC (SD Ind., Pratt), a 13-page opinion, Chief Judge Wood writes:

Chontel Miller began work as a sample processing technician at Polaris Laboratories in Indianapolis in August 2009. Judging from reports of her daily productivity, her performance left something to be desired. In April 2010, Miller was fired for repeated failures to meet an average daily quota of 260 samples processed per day. Yet that is not the whole story. Miller, who is African‐American, asserts that during her employment at Polaris she suffered from racial discrimination that had an effect on her work performance. She sued Polaris, contending that it violated Title VII as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1981 in several ways. The district court granted summary judgment to Polaris. There is no doubt that this is a close case. But construing the record in Miller’s favor, as we must do, we conclude that Miller has shown a genuine issue of material fact on both her discrimination and retaliation claims. We therefore return the case to the district court for further proceedings. * * *

We REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND this case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

In Robert Spierer v. Corey Rossman (SD Ind., Pratt). a 21-page opinion, Judge Manion writes:

After a night of heavy drinking, Lauren Spierer, a twenty-year-old Indiana University student, left the apartment of a classmate and disappeared. Four years later, she remains missing. Lauren’s parents brought suit against three students who were with Lauren in the hours before her disappearance, alleging negligence and violations of Indiana’s Dram Shop Act. After some claims were dismissed but before discovery was conducted, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs could only speculate about whether the defendants were the proximate cause of any injury sustained. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment for the defendants. The plaintiffs have appealed, contesting both the dismissal of claims and the award of summary judgment for the defendants. We affirm. * * *

Because he was with Lauren the majority of the evening and bought drinks for her, Rossman was nearest to assuming a duty to care for her. But he also appears to have been intoxicated—so much so that it is questionable whether he could effectively take care of himself, still less another person. “Indiana courts have shown great reluctance to require an individual to take any action to control a third party when there is no special relationship between them.” Hawn, 598 N.E.2d at 633. We have found no decisions under Indiana law where persons were held liable for the actions of their social peers, absent additional factors not present here. To hold otherwise would be to extend the reach of negligence far beyond special relationships and into virtually all social relationships and situations where a risk of danger might be present.

For these reasons, we agree with the district court that the plaintiffs have failed to state a plausible claim under Indiana law for common law negligence. Because we affirm the dismissal, we need not consider the plaintiffs’ claim under Indiana’s Child Wrongful Death Statute as that type of claim is functionally identical to one for common law negligence and would fail for the same reasons. See Ed. Wiersma Trucking Co. v. Pfaff, 643 N.E.2d 909, 911 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994). Likewise, we need not review the district court’s ruling that Lauren’s age precluded relief for the loss of services of a child under Indiana law.

For the reasons stated above, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 14, 2015 11:35 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions