Indiana Civil Rights Com'n v. Southern Indiana Gas & Elec. Co., 26A04-9405-CV-209

Docket NºNo. 26A04-9405-CV-209
Citation648 N.E.2d 674
Case DateMarch 31, 1995
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 674

648 N.E.2d 674
6 NDLR P 231
Bauermeister, Appellants-Respondents,
No. 26A04-9405-CV-209.
Court of Appeals of Indiana,
Fourth District.
March 31, 1995.
Transfer Denied Aug. 15, 1995.

Page 677

Jacquelyn Thompson, Indianapolis, for appellants.

Arthur D. Rutkowski, Bowers, Harrison, Kent & Miller, Evansville, for appellee.


RILEY, Judge.

Respondents-Appellants James Carter Bauermeister and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (the Commission) seek appellate review of the Gibson County Circuit Court's judgment in favor of Petitioner-Appellee Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company (SIGECO) in Bauermeister's action concerning discrimination based on a disability. 1

We reverse.


Bauermeister and the Commission raise two issues on review which we restate as:

Page 678

1. Did the trial court go beyond the scope of its review by reweighing the evidence, and substituting its opinion for that of the Commission?

2. Did the trial court err by finding that the Commission's findings are not supported by substantial, reliable and probative evidence?

3. Did the trial court err by finding that SIGECO did not receive a fair hearing because the hearing officer was biased and prejudiced against SIGECO?


Bauermeister, while employed as a laboratory technician by SIGECO, unsuccessfully applied for transfer to an electrical maintenance position. At the time of this application, and indeed during his entire employment at SIGECO, Bauermeister had the use of only one hand. This condition was due to an industrial accident which occurred in 1968 when Bauermeister was 17 years old. The accident left him with a metal prosthetic hook to substitute for the lost appendage. He was hired as a laboratory technician or "lab man" by SIGECO in 1977.

In July, 1985, Bauermeister applied to Henry Woodall, SIGECO's supervisor of employment, for transfer to the electrical maintenance department as part of an apprenticeship program (Apprentice Electrician) at the A.B. Brown Generating Plant (the Plant). 2 Bauermeister had applied unsuccessfully for similar positions a number of times from 1977 to 1985.

Bauermeister interviewed with Woodall who determined that Bauermeister met the initial requirements of the position. Woodall referred Bauermeister to Millard New, superintendent of the Plant for an on-site interview. (Comm'n R. at 950, 952). 3 Bauermeister interviewed at the Plant with New and also with Jim Dillman, maintenance supervisor, and Dave Baggett, electrical maintenance foreman. Id. at 1105. Later, New asked Dennis Glancey, who had been employed as a chemist and supervised Bauermeister at Culley Lab, for a recommendation.

New had the authority to fill the open positions at the Plant and made the ultimate decision to reject Bauermeister's application. New hired five non-disabled applicants who had never worked at SIGECO for the open positions.

On October 1, 1985, Bauermeister filed a complaint of discrimination with the Commission alleging that SIGECO rejected his application for Apprentice Electrician on the basis of his disability.

On September 26, 1991, a hearing officer for the Commission entered Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law for the benefit of the Commission. SIGECO filed objections to the recommended decision; however, the Commission agreed with the hearing officer and found specifically in its final order:

Evidence indicates that [Bauermeister] was at least as qualified as three of the five applicants hired after [Bauermeister]'s request for transfer to the electrical maintenance position. There is also evidence to indicate that [SIGECO] did not seek Dennis Glancey's recommendation for [Bauermeister] until after it had denied [Bauermeister] for transfer and he requested a review of this decision. Evidence further indicates that at least one [SIGECO] official indicated that [SIGECO]'s concern was [Bauermeister]'s loss of his right hand, and not his safety record or qualifications.

Id. at 9.

SIGECO petitioned for judicial review and, on January 31, 1994, the Gibson Circuit

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Court issued extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, which included:

4. The evidence in this case establishes by a standard of substantial evidence that the Commission was correct in findings:

a. Petitioner is a member of a protected class; and

b. Petitioner established he was otherwise qualified for the position sought.

The evidence does not, as a matter of law, establish by a preponderance that the Petitioner was, "... (excluded) from equal opportunities because of (2) ... handicap...." I.C. 22-9-1-3.

5. The inferences taken by the [Commission] to substantiate its decision, as made by the Hearing Officer, are not borne out by the evidence, and are not reasonably made.

6. The record of this matter demonstrates that the provisions of I.C. 4-22-1-18, now I.C. 4-21.5-5-11 in part, are not met, in that the decision of the Commission was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law; that it was without observance of procedure required by law; and that the decision is unsupported by substantial, reliable and probative evidence.

7. The decision of the [Commission] in this cause must be set aside and is void for the reasons stated.

8. The proper remedy for resolution of this case is to set aside the decision of the [Commission], and the remand of the matter to the [Commission], for re-hearing in compliance with the findings of this Court.

(R. at 39-40) (citation omitted). It is from this decision that Bauermeister and the Commission appeal. Additional facts will be supplied as necessary.



Initially, we examine whether the trial court went beyond the scope of its review. Bauermeister argues that the court failed to apply the proper legal analysis, reweighed the evidence, and substituted its opinion for that of the Commission. We agree.

Judicial review of agency decisions is governed by the Administrative Orders & Procedures Act, IND.CODE 4-21.5-1-1, et seq. When a trial court, in the first instance, or an appellate court, on appeal, reviews an agency decision, it is bound by the findings of fact made by the agency if those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Hamilton County Dep't of Pub. Welfare v. Smith (1991), Ind.App., 567 N.E.2d 165, 168. A trial court may not reweigh the evidence before the agency or judge witness credibility; neither may a court substitute its judgment for that of the agency, that is, it cannot reverse a decision because it would have reached a different result on the evidence presented. Indiana Dep't of Natural Resources v. United Refuse (1992), Ind.App., 598 N.E.2d 603, 607, opinion adopted in part and vacated by 615 N.E.2d 100; May v. Dep't of Natural Resources (1991), Ind.App., 565 N.E.2d 367, 375. The agency's decision is presumed to be correct in view of its expertise, and the trial court is bound by the agency's findings of fact if those facts have a reasonably sound basis of evidentiary support based on a review of the record in it entirety. Bloomington v. Delta Treatment Center (1990), Ind.App., 560 N.E.2d 556, 558; Smith, 567 N.E.2d at 167-68; see also Indiana Civil Rights Comm'n v. Sutherland Lumber (1979), 182 Ind.App. 133, 394 N.E.2d 949, 951-52.

However, despite the great weight afforded an administrative body's findings, an agency's determination of ultimate fact, defined as factual conclusions derived from basic facts, is subject to a reasonableness standard. Ali v. Greater Ft. Wayne Chamber of Commerce (1987), Ind.App., 505 N.E.2d 141, 143. Because findings of ultimate fact represent inferences drawn by the agency, they are not subject to scrutiny for evidentiary support in the record; the reasonableness of the agency's inferences is a question of law appropriate for judicial determination. L.S. Ayres v. Indianapolis Power & Light (1976), 169 Ind.App. 652, 664-65, 351 N.E.2d 814, 823; Smith, 567 N.E.2d at 168 (A reviewing court is not bound by an agency's interpretation of law and is free to determine

Page 680

any legal question which arises out of the administrative action.).

In its decision, the trial court stated:

This Court feels that it is important to note that the hearing conducted by the Hearing Officer, which was adopted in toto by the commission as its ruling, was composed almost entirely by review by the Hearing Officer of recorded testimony, that is, deposition. This was done by stipulation of the parties, with the knowledge and approval of the Hearing Officer, as shown by his Pre-Trial Orders. Only the testimony of witnesses Bauermeister and Penfield were heard "live" by the Hearing Officer. As a result, much of the results of the Hearing were of a two-dimensional nature. This Court would thus be in much the same position as the Hearing Officer, at least as to the deposition testimony. For that matter, so would any appellate court reviewing the action of this Court.

(R. at 24) (emphasis in original). The trial court candidly indicated that it considered its standard of review to go beyond determining whether there was substantial evidence to support the Commission's findings of fact. As a reviewing court, the trial court was prohibited from "weigh[ing] conflicting evidence, which appears in the record of the hearing, for the purpose of determining for whom it preponderates." Indiana Educ. Employment Relations Bd. v. Board of School Trustees of Baugo Community Schools (1978), 176 Ind.App. 680, 682, 377 N.E.2d 414, 416. It is not clear from our reading of the record and trial court's decision that it, in fact, did not go beyond the scope of its review of the Commission's findings of facts, and did not engage in its own weighing of the evidence. Because the trial court may have exceeded the scope of its review, it erred in reversing the Commission's findings and its...

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