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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues two opinions today, Sept. 1st

In David Anderson, Joe Wray, John Kennard, Commissioners, and Board of Trustees, Brown County Fire Protection District v. Susanne Gaudin, Janet Kramer, and Ruth Reichmann, an 11-page, 4-1 opinion, Justice Dickson concludes:

We conclude that, under the Home Rule Act, boards of county commissioners are authorized to amend a fire protection district, even if such amendment dissolves the district. While this holding is inconsistent with the reinstated opinion of the Court of Appeals in Gaudin I, this Court is now able to review the issue with full participation, and we now disapprove of Gaudin I. The commissioners do not ask this Court to revisit Gaudin I; however, and the matter on appeal is not a dissolution of the District but a partial amendment of the ordinance that created it. We thus need not decide whether the Law of the Case Doctrine prohibits retroactive operation of our holding today. We conclude that under the Home Rule Act, the Board of Commissioners is not limited in its power to unilaterally amend the ordinance that previously established the District, notwithstanding the landowners' claim that such amendment constitutes a de facto dissolution.

Conclusion. The amended ordinance 09-04-07-01 is a valid exercise of the authority of the Brown County Board of Commissioners. We reverse the trial court's order granting summary judgment for the plaintiff landowners and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Rush, C.J., and Massa, J., concur.
David, J., concurs in result with separate opinion.
Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion.

[David, Justice, concurring in result. At p. 8] However, I write separately because I do not believe that the Fire District Act’s express grant of authority to a county legislative body in Indiana Code § 36-8-11-4 to establish a fire protection district1 necessarily includes the power to amend the fire district established. * * *

[RUCKER, J., dissenting. At p. 10] I respectfully dissent. In Gaudin v. Austin, 921 N.E.2d 895 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010) (“Gaudin I”) freeholders challenged the Commissioners’ attempt to dissolve the fire protection district and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in the Commissioners’ favor. In so doing the court held that although the Fire District Act explicitly provides in two discrete sections for the establishment of a district either by ordinance or by freeholder petitions, the Act provides only one method of dissolution, namely: the freeholder-petition process. See Ind. Code § 36-8-11-24 (“(a) Proceedings to dissolve a fire protection district may be instituted by the filing of a petition with the county legislative body that formed the district . . . . (b) The petition must be signed: (1) by at least twenty percent (20%), with a minimum of five hundred (500), of the freeholders owning land within the district; or (2) by a majority of those freeholders owning land within the district; whichever is less.”). Therefore the Commissioners lacked authority to unilaterally dissolve the district. See Gaudin I, 921 N.E.2d at 897-900.

With one Justice not participating, this Court was evenly divided on whether the Court of Appeals correctly interpreted and applied the Fire District Act. And thus the opinion stood as the controlling authority on the issues presented. See Gaudin v. Austin, 936 N.E.2d 1241 (Ind. 2010) (Order Reinstating Decision of the Court of Appeals). Importantly, in the nearly decade and a half since Gaudin I was decided, the Legislature has not amended the Act to express any disagreement with the interpretation advanced by the Court of Appeals. “[A] judicial interpretation of a statute, particularly by the Indiana Supreme Court, accompanied by substantial legislative inaction for a considerable time, may be understood to signify the General Assembly’s acquiescence and agreement with the judicial interpretation.” DePuy, Inc. v. Farmer, 847 N.E.2d 160, 168 (Ind. 2006) (quotation and citations omitted). Although Gaudin I does not reflect an interpretation of the Act by this Court, still legislative silence on this issue is instructive. And this is especially so considering this Court was evenly divided.

In any event, noting and agreeing with the trial court’s characterization that the Commissioners “gutted” the Ordinance, the Court of Appeals here reached “the inescapable conclusion . . . that the ‘amendment’ the Commissioners made to the Ordinance was so extreme and far-reaching as to amount to a de facto dissolution of the Ordinance, in contravention of both section 36-8-11-24 and Gaudin [I].” Anderson v. Gaudin, 24 N.E.3d 479, 485 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015). I agree and would affirm the judgment of the trial court.

For background, see this ILB post from Nov. 17, 2010. In the 2010 ruling, CJ Shepard recused and the others split 2-2, meaning the COA opinion stood (until now).

In Gary Allen Gibson v. State of Indiana, a 2-page, per curiam opinion, the Court concludes:

We agree with Gibson that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for criminal confinement under section 3(a)(2). Accordingly, we grant transfer and reverse Gibson’s criminal confinement conviction and concurrent two and one-half year sentence. In all other respects we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision. See Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)(2).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 1, 2015 04:28 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions