McIntosh v. Melroe Co.

Citation729 N.E.2d 972
Decision Date26 May 2000
Docket NumberNo. 71S03-9805-CV-297.,71S03-9805-CV-297.
PartiesJames E. McINTOSH and Sondra McIntosh, Appellants (Plaintiffs Below), v. MELROE COMPANY, A DIVISION OF CLARK EQUIPMENT CO., INC., a Delaware corporation, and Ruxer Farms, Inc., an Indiana Corporation, Appellees (Defendants Below ).
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Jerry J. Phillips, Knoxville, Tennessee, Roger L. Pardieck, Seymour, Indiana, John F. Vargo, Janet O. Vargo, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Appellants.

Robert G. Zeigler, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorney for Appellees.

Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, Edgar W. Bayliff, P. Gregory Cross, Thomas C. Doehrman, Robert L. Justice, Henry J. Price, Mary Beth Ramey, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae.

Indiana Defense Lawyers Association, John D. Nell, Julie L. Michaelis, Joseph R. Alberts, Indianapolis, Indiana, Product Liability Advisory Counsel, Inc., Hugh F. Young, Jr., Reston, Virginia, Lloyd H. Milliken, Jr., Todd J. Kaiser, Nelson D. Alexander, T. Joseph Wendt, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Amici Curiae.

ON PETITION TO TRANSFER

BOEHM, Justice.

This case deals with the validity of the provision in the Product Liability Act that bars product liability claims for injuries sustained more than ten years after the product is delivered to its "initial user or consumer." The plaintiffs argue that this provision violates their constitutional right under Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution to a remedy by due course of law. They also contend that it violates Article I, Section 23 which prohibits the grant of privileges and immunities not equally applicable to all. We hold that the provision is a permissible legislative decision to limit the liability of manufacturers of goods over ten years old and does not violate either constitutional guarantee.

Factual and Procedural Background

The facts of this case are not in dispute. On June 9, 1993, James McIntosh was injured in an accident involving a Clark Bobcat skid steer loader manufactured by Melroe. McIntosh and his wife filed suit alleging that his injuries and her resulting loss of companionship were caused by a defect in the loader. Melroe responded with a motion for summary judgment based on the ten-year statute of repose, codified at Indiana Code § 34-20-3-1(b).1 That section provides that "a product liability action must be commenced ... within ten (10) years after the delivery of the product to the initial user or consumer." Melroe designated evidence establishing that the loader had been delivered to its initial user on September 9, 1980, almost thirteen years before the accident. The McIntoshes did not dispute this evidence, but replied that the statute of repose violated their rights under Article I, Sections 12 and 23 of the Indiana Constitution. The trial court granted Melroe's motion and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Because the material facts are not in dispute, the appeal presents only an issue of law. We granted the McIntoshes' petition to transfer and now hold that the statute of repose is constitutional.

I. Article I, Section 12

Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution provides, in relevant part: "All courts shall be open; and every person, for injury done to him in his person, property, or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law." The McIntoshes argue that the statute of repose violates Section 12 because it "abrogates all of the tort protections provided by common law," and these are claimed to be guaranteed by the "due course of law" provision of Section 12.

Melroe contends that this case is governed by our decision in Dague v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 275 Ind. 520, 530, 418 N.E.2d 207, 213 (1981), which held that the statute of repose does not violate Article I, Section 12. The McIntoshes assert that Dague addressed only the provision in Section 12 that "all courts shall be open" and did not deal with the provision that "every person, for injury done to him in his person... shall have remedy by due course of law." Although Dague itself did not explicitly limit its holding to the "open courts" provision, at least two members of this Court suggested a decade ago that Dague did not fully address the constitutionality of the statute of repose under Section 12. See Covalt v. Carey Canada, Inc., 543 N.E.2d 382, 387-90 (Ind.1989)

(dissenting opinions of Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, J., stating that the statute of repose "is still susceptible to challenges under Article 1, Sections 12 and 23"). The McIntoshes now squarely raise this issue.

A. Methodology

We agree with the dissent that the various frequently invoked constitutional talismans—constitutional text, history of the times, intent of the framers, etc.—are proper keys to the interpretation of Article I, Section 12. See Ajabu v. State, 693 N.E.2d 921, 928-29 (Ind.1998)

("In construing the Indiana Constitution ... [we] look to `the language of the text in the context of the history surrounding its drafting and ratification, the purpose and structure of our constitution, and case law interpreting the specific provisions.'") (quoting Boehm v. Town of St. John, 675 N.E.2d 318, 321 (Ind.1996)); Collins v. Day, 644 N.E.2d 72, 75-76 (Ind.1994). But apart from the text itself, precedents of this Court, and precedents from other states with similar provisions, we find no relevant guideposts on this point. In particular, there appears to be no unique Indiana history surrounding the adoption of this Clause in 1816 or its redrafting in 1851. See Journal-Gazette Co. v. Bandido's, Inc., 712 N.E.2d 446, 484 (Ind.1999) (Dickson, J., dissenting).

B. The Branches of Federal Due Process and State Article I, Section 12 Doctrine

By 1986, this Court could correctly observe that there was a "substantial line of cases treating the `due process' clause of the federal constitution and the `due course' clause of the Indiana Constitution as interchangeable." White v. State, 497 N.E.2d 893, 897 n. 4 (Ind.1986). White addressed claims of violation of state and federal constitutional rights in accepting a guilty plea to a criminal charge. For the quoted proposition, White cited three cases that addressed federal due process and state Article I, Section 12 claims as if there were no difference between them. The first was a case striking down a zoning restriction against gasoline stations in areas that permitted other commercial uses on the ground that the restriction constituted a taking that was not justified by safety concerns and therefore violated both constitutions. See Board of Zoning Appeals v. La Dow, 238 Ind. 673, 676-78, 153 N.E.2d 599, 601 (1958)

. The second, Dean v. State ex rel. Board of Medical Registration & Examination, 233 Ind. 25, 30-31, 116 N.E.2d 503, 506 (1954), dealt with a claim that legislative regulation of the medical profession was "unconstitutional" and held that the regulatory program in question "did not violate the Due Process Clause of either the federal or state constitutions." The third, Paul v. Walkerton Woodlawn Cemetery Ass'n, 204 Ind. 693, 699-701, 184 N.E. 537, 540 (1933), upheld assessments by the managers of a cemetery association as justified by the articles and bylaws, and therefore not a violation of the due process rights of the member lot holders. Consistent with this precedent, this Court recently noted that, "[t]he same analysis is applicable to both" the federal Due Process Clause and the state Due Course of Law Clause. Indiana High Sch. Athletic Ass'n v. Carlberg, 694 N.E.2d 222, 241 (Ind.1997) (considering claims that the IHSAA's procedures for addressing student-athlete eligibility were constitutionally defective).

The two constitutional provisions do share certain commonalities. Both prohibit state action that deprives a person of a protectable interest without a fair proceeding. See id. Both also require, as a threshold matter, that the claimant have a "protectable interest." See id. (citing Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 570-71, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972)); see also Sidle v. Majors, 264 Ind. 206, 223, 341 N.E.2d 763, 773-74 (1976)

("`The inquiry, in every case, must be directed to the nature of the right alleged to have been infringed upon.'").

This is not to say, however, that the "open courts" or "remedies" clause of Article I, Section 12 is in all applications to be equated with the due process provisions of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In broad brush, the federal provisions guarantee procedural and substantive due process rights. Procedural rights ensure, for example, that a party will be given "the opportunity to be heard `at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.'" Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). Procedural rights are found in both the civil context, where due process imposes requirements of notice, a right to a hearing, etc., as well as the criminal context, where it is the source of an array of criminal procedural rights, either directly through the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment or via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The "substantive" due process strain declares some actions so outlandish that they cannot be accomplished by any procedure. In earlier times, this took the form of preservation of property and contractual rights. See, e.g., Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 1 L.Ed. 648 (1798)

. It reached a highwater mark in cases invalidating progressive era and New Deal legislation, most notably the now discredited Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 25 S.Ct. 539, 49 L.Ed. 937 (1905), which struck down a state law limiting the work week to sixty hours. This doctrine remains today as a constitutional bar to actions that "shock the conscience," see County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 846, 118 S.Ct. 1708, 140 L.Ed.2d 1043 (1998), despite the recognition that "guideposts for responsible decisionmaking in this uncharted area are scarce and open-ended," Collins v. City of...

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