Lake Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State

Decision Date30 April 2021
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals Case No. 20A-MI-1527
Citation170 N.E.3d 1104
Parties LAKE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS and Lake County Council, Appellants-Plaintiffs, v. STATE of Indiana, Office of the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Lake County Probation Department, Jan Parsons, in her official capacity as Director and Chief Probation Officer of felony Probation Department of the Superior Courts of Lake County, Criminal Division, et al., Appellees-Defendants
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Attorney for Lake County Board of Commissioners: Angela M. Jones, Law Offices of Angela M. Jones, Munster, Indiana

Attorney for Lake County Council: Gerald M. Bishop, Merrillville, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellees: Theodore E. Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana, Frances Barrow, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana

Mathias, Judge.

[1] The Lake County Board of Commissioners and Lake County Council (collectively, "Lake County") appeal the Marion Superior Court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the State of Indiana, the Office of Attorney General, the Lake County Probation Department, and Jan Parsons, in her official capacity as the Director of the felony Probation Department of the Superior Courts of the Lake County Criminal Division (collectively "the Appellees"). On appeal, Lake County argues that the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment in favor of the Appellees after concluding as a matter of law that the county is responsible for the costs of Lake County probation officers’ legal representation in defending against a federal lawsuit.

[2] Under Indiana Code subsection 11-13-1-1(c), Lake County is responsible for paying the costs of its probation officers’ legal defense that are incurred in the performance of the officers’ duties. We therefore affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Appellees.

Facts and Procedural History

[3] In 2015, probationer Lorena Bostic filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana against the Lake County Board of Commissioners, five Lake County Superior Court Criminal Division Judges, Lake County Chief Probation Officer Jan Parsons and Lake County Probation Officer Miroslav Radiceski, in their official capacities, alleging violations of her constitutional rights (the "federal litigation").1 The judges of the Lake County Criminal Division are responsible for hiring and supervising probation officers, but Lake County is statutorily required to pay the probation officers’ salaries and expenses. Both Parsons and Radiceski were employed by the Lake County Probation Department when the offenses alleged in the federal litigation occurred.

[4] On December 2, 2015, Lake County submitted a formal written demand to the Indiana Attorney General requesting that the office appear for and defend Parsons and Radiceski in the federal litigation. The Attorney General declined, having concluded that Lake County is responsible for defending the probation officers.2 Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 235. The federal litigation remains pending.

[5] On March 23, 2019, Lake County filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the Appellees and argued that because Lake County probation officers are state employees, the State is required to represent and indemnify them. On December 23, Lake County moved for partial summary judgment, asking the trial court to conclude that probation officers are state employees. In response, the Appellees filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and argued that the State is not obligated to defend the probation officers in the federal litigation because counties are required to pay for legal representation and damages incurred by probation officers. On June 23, 2020, the trial court heard argument on the parties’ motions.

[6] On August 3, the trial court issued an order denying Lake County's motion for partial summary judgment and granting the Appelleescross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court concluded that Lake County is responsible for paying the costs of defense and indemnification of its probation officers. Lake County now appeals.

Standard of Review

[7] When our court reviews a summary judgment order, we stand in the shoes of the trial court. See Matter of Supervised Estate of Kent , 99 N.E.3d 634, 637 (Ind. 2018) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the designated evidentiary matter shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."

Ind. Trial Rule 56(C). Where, as here, the challenge to summary judgment raises a question of law, we review it de novo. Ballard v. Lewis , 8 N.E.3d 190, 193 (Ind. 2014). The fact that the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment does not alter our standard for review, as we consider each motion separately to determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Reed v. Reid , 980 N.E.2d 277, 285 (Ind. 2012).

Discussion and Decision

[8] The facts in this case are undisputed. The question presented in this appeal is whether Lake County or the State is, as a matter of law, responsible for paying the costs of legal representation for the Lake County probation officers in the federal litigation.

[9] Lake County argues that probation officers are state employees, and therefore, the State is required to indemnify them and pay the costs of their defense.3 See Ind. Code 4-6-2-1.5(a) (requiring the Indiana Attorney General to defend state employees). In support of this argument, Lake County relies on J.A.W. v. State , 650 N.E.2d 1142 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), aff'd in relevant part , 687 N.E.2d 1202, 1203 n.3 (Ind. 1997) ).

[10] In that case, J.A.W. filed various tort claims and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the Marion County Probation Department and his probation officer alleging that the officer failed to protect him from sexual abuse. Id. at 1146. Our court rejected J.A.W.’s argument that the Marion County Probation Department was a county entity and therefore subject to suit under § 1983. (cite) Citing several statutory provisions, we observed that "Probation is an arm of the court." Id. at 1150. We then explained that the Marion County Probation Department was not a county entity simply because it is funded by county government. Id. Indeed, that funding system is "merely reflective of the longstanding policy of funding state courts through county revenues." Id. at 1150–51. We concluded that the Marion County Probation Department and J.A.W.’s probation officer, acting in his official capacity, were state entities, and thus not subject to suit under § 1983.4 Id.

[11] In addition to relying on our court's holding in J.A.W .,5 Lake County notes that the statutorily mandated judicial control over probation departments and probation officers in support of its claim that probation officers are state employees. See Ind. Code ch. 11-13-1. The Appellees acknowledge that probation departments have been considered "arms" of the State for determining liability for certain claims, including those brought under § 1983. But the Appellees assert that a probation officer's status for determining liability under § 1983 has no bearing on the proper inquiry before us—whether the General Assembly has imposed a duty on the State to defend and indemnify probation officers. See Appellees’ Br. at 12–13. We agree.

[12] Our General Assembly is tasked with determining which governmental entities are responsible for funding probation departments. And therefore, we turn our attention to the relevant statute: Indiana Code section 11-13-1-1. Under section 11-13-1-1, Lake County probation officers "serve at the pleasure of the" Lake Superior Court and "are directly responsible to and subject to the orders of the court." Id. The statute further provides that probation officers’ salaries are paid "out of the county, city, or town treasury by the county auditor or city controller."6 Id. Importantly, the statute also specifies that "[p]robation officers are entitled to their actual expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties."7 Id. Thus, if Lake County probation officers’ legal expenses are "actual expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of [the officers’] duties," then Lake County is responsible for those costs.

[13] To make this determination, we apply our well-established rules of statutory construction:

Our first task when interpreting a statute is to give its words their plain meaning and consider the structure of the statute as a whole. We avoid interpretations that depend on selective reading of individual words that lead to irrational and disharmonizing results. As we interpret the statute, we are mindful of both what it does say and what it does not say. To the extent there is an ambiguity, we determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature as best it can be ascertained. We do not presume that the Legislature intended language used in a statute to be applied illogically or to bring about an unjust or absurd result.

ESPN, Inc. v. Univ. of Notre Dame Police Dep't , 62 N.E.3d 1192, 1195–96 (Ind. 2016) (cleaned up).

[14] We initially observe that subsection 11-13-1-1(c) does not expressly state that counties or cities are responsible for paying the "actual expenses necessarily incurred." However, the immediately preceding sentence requires that probation officers’ salaries are paid "out of the county, city, or town treasury by the county auditor or city controller." I.C. § 11-13-1-1(c). It is thus reasonable to infer from the statute's plain language that counties or cities are also responsible for paying probation officers’ "actual expenses necessarily incurred." Moreover, Lake County has not cited, and we have not found, any statute that requires the State to pay any expenses associated with the operation of probation departments.8 For these reasons, it would be illogical to conclude that an entity other than the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • Lake Cnty. Bd. of Commissioners v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • February 22, 2022
    ...Appellees and granted them summary judgment.Lake County appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Lake Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State , 170 N.E.3d 1104, 1111 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021). Lake County then sought transfer, which we now grant, vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate R......
  • Lake Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • February 22, 2022
  • Lake Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • August 27, 2021
    ...its probation officers' legal defense that are incurred in the performance of the officers' duties." Lake Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State, 170 N.E.3d 1104, 1105 (Ind.Ct.App. 2021). The appellants have filed a transfer petition, and some of the appellees have opposed transfer. The Supreme Court......
  • Lake Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • August 27, 2021
    ...of its probation officers’ legal defense that are incurred in the performance of the officers’ duties." Lake Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. State, 170 N.E.3d 1104, 1105 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021). The appellants have filed a transfer petition, and some of the appellees have opposed transfer. The Supreme ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT