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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 2 opinion(s) today (and 12 NFP memorandum decision(s))

For publication opinions today (2):

In Risha D. Warren v. Board of School Trustees of the Springs Valley Community School Corporation, a 21-page opinion, Judge Robb writes:

Risha Warren filed a complaint against the Board of School Trustees of the Springs Valley Community School Corporation (“School Board”), alleging violations of Indiana’s Open Door Law, breach of contract, and defamation. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the School Board.

Warren appeals, raising the following restated issues: 1) whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment; and 2) whether the trial court erred in denying her motion to compel. Concluding the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the School Board as to the Open Door Law claim, we reverse and remand for further proceedings on that claim. On the remaining claims we affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of the School Board. As for Warren’s motion to compel, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion and affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion. We therefore affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand. * * *

Warren contends the School Board provided inadequate notice of the date and time of the public meeting held after the executive session, thereby violating Indiana’s Open Door Law, and the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the School Board on this claim. The School Board agrees the proceedings were subject to the requirements of the Open Door Law,3 but the School Board argues the notice was adequate and “specific in notifying the public that the public session would occur immediately following the executive session.” * * *

We conclude the public notice did not satisfy the Open Door Law’s notice requirement because the School Board convened the meeting at a time unreasonably departing from the time stated in the notice. Indiana Code section 5-14-1.5-5(a) requires public notice of the “date, time, and place of any meetings,” and “whichever comes later” is not a concrete “time” from the public’s perspective. The tentative start time was 7:00 P.M., but the meeting was held in the middle of the night, over seven hours later. Undoubtedly, the lateness of the hour substantially deprived the public of the opportunity to attend. The fact that several members of the public nonetheless attended does not alter our conclusion. Holding a public meeting at 2:30 A.M. is unreasonable and contrary to the purpose of the Open Door Law. [ILB emphasis]

The School Board argues that even if it violated the Open Door Law, Warren’s claim fails as a mere technical violation. We disagree. We are required to liberally construe the provisions of the Open Door Law in order to give effect to the legislature’s intention that state business be conducted openly. Baker v. Town of Middlebury, 753 N.E.2d 67, 70 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001) (citing Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-1), trans. denied. The notice for the meeting did not comply with the requirements of the Open Door Law, and the violation both impaired public access to the meeting and affected the substance of the final action taken at the meeting. See Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-7(d)(1). The School Board voted to cancel Warren’s contract by a 4-0-3 vote, with three members abstaining. Had the meeting been timely held with proper notice, the designated evidence shows Warren would have attended and objected to two of the board members voting, both of whom voted in favor of her termination.[6]

We also conclude the public interest would be served by voiding the final action taken at the meeting. As stated above, holding a public meeting at 2:30 A.M. is plainly contrary to the purpose of the Open Door Law. Moreover, despite the fact that board members claim they did not know where Warren was or assumed Warren did not want to attend the public meeting, the School Board’s ongoing negotiations with Warren show the School Board knew Warren was in the building and wanted to be present for the meeting. Their failure to notify Warren that the executive session had concluded indicates they did not want Warren to attend to the public meeting. Whether deliberate or indifferent, the School Board’s conduct was unreasonable and antithetical to legislature’s intention that state business be conducted openly. And nothing in the record suggests voiding the vote would result in prejudice to the public that would outweigh the remedial benefits gained by requiring the School Board to comply with the law. See Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-7(d)(3). The trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the School Board on this claim.
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[6] Warren would have objected to Ralph Purkhiser voting because he appeared to be sleeping during the private conference portion of the proceedings. She would have objected to Kevin Allstot voting based on a potential conflict of interest created by his wife’s employment within the Springs Valley School Corporation.

In Charles S. Whitham v. State of Indiana , a 15-page opinion, Judge Najam writes:
Charles S. Whitham appeals his convictions for attempted murder, a Class A felony (Count I); aggravated battery, a Class B felony (Count II); criminal confinement, as a Class B felony (Count V); two counts of battery, each as a Class C felony (Counts III and IV); and strangulation, a Class D felony (Count VI). Whitham raises three issues for our review, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court abused its discretion in the admission of certain evidence. We also raise sua sponte whether several of Whitham’s convictions violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. * * *

In sum, we affirm Whitham’s conviction for Count I, attempted murder, a Class A felony. However, we reverse Whitham’s convictions for aggravated battery, a Class B felony (Count II); criminal confinement, as a Class B felony (Count V); battery, as a Class C felony (Count III); battery, as a Class C felony (Count IV); and strangulation, a Class D felony (Count VI). Each of these offenses was a lesser-included offense to Whitham’s conviction for attempted murder. Thus, we remand with instructions that the trial court vacate Whitham’s lesser-included offenses.

NFP civil decisions today (3):

L.B. v. A.L. (mem. dec.)

In Re Paternity of E.R.B. Michael Bruzzese v. Rachel Kensinger (mem. dec.)

Magic Circle Corp. d/b/a Dixie Chopper, Arthur Evans, Wesley Evans, Jeffrey Haltom v. Simon Wilson, Gary Morgan, and Crowe Horwath LLP (mem. dec.)

NFP criminal decisions today (9):

Isaiah H. Rogers v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Jesse Abrams v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Scott Ezman v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Brian Keith Roach v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Nick Adams v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Edward Jones, Jr. v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Charles D. Craft v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Tommy E. Foster v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Lamont Hudgins v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.)

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 30, 2015 11:31 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions