Puckett v. Miller, 3-977A221

CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana
Citation178 Ind.App. 174,381 N.E.2d 1087
Docket NumberNo. 3-977A221,3-977A221
PartiesErnest PUCKETT, Jr., Appellant-Plaintiff, v. Charles MILLER, Appellee-Defendant.
Decision Date31 October 1978

Gene R. Duffen, Goshen, for appellant-plaintiff.

W. L. McLaughlin, Simpson & McLaughlin, Goshen, for appellee-defendant.

STATON, Judge.

Charles Miller shot and killed Ernest Puckett, Jr.'s two coon dogs. Puckett sued Miller for the negligent destruction of his dogs. After Puckett rested his case, Miller moved for an involuntary dismissal. The trial court granted the motion. Puckett appeals. We affirm.

I. Trial Rule 41(B) Motion

Puckett argues that because the trial judge granted Miller's motion for judgment on the evidence, involuntary dismissal Ind.Rules of Procedure, Trial Rule 41(B), the judge necessarily weighed the evidence. Puckett characterizes such weighing as harmful error. Before we reach the question of whether weighing evidence pursuant to a TR. 41(B) motion is proper, we must determine whether the facts in this case support Puckett's premise that weighing was necessarily inherent in the trial court's decision to grant the motion.

Puckett presented evidence that he began running his dogs about 1:30 a. m.; a heavy rainstorm caused him to lose contact with the dogs between 2:00 and 2:30 a. m.; he searched for the dogs until about 4:30 or 5:00 a. m. and then went home to bed. He instructed his wife to continue to look for the dogs in the morning when she got up. She looked for the dogs from approximately 6:30 or 7:00 a. m. until 9:30 a. m. She then returned home, told Puckett that she was unable to locate the dogs. Later, Puckett continued the search.

Puckett called Miller as a witness. Miller testified that he was awakened by the sounds of his own dog barking. He looked out his window and saw the Puckett dogs near his chicken pen. He left the house and went to the garage where he got his shotgun. He saw the dogs trying to get into the chicken enclosure; the dogs were jumping and pouncing about; at least one dog got into the pen. Miller shot both dogs. Miller stated at trial that from his vantage point he did not see any collars on the dogs, did not recognize the dogs, and assumed the dogs were roamers. The dogs looked wet and dirty. Miller testified that he had lost chickens to dogs before.

After Miller shot the dogs, he found that one of the dogs had a collar on it; the collar gave Puckett's name and address. Miller removed the collar and buried the dogs. Miller recognized Puckett's name and thought that Puckett had the reputation for pugnacity. When Puckett inquired about the dog, Miller lied and told Puckett he had not seen any animals. Later, thinking better of his deceit, Miller called Puckett's father (Puckett's phone number was unlisted) and told him that he had shot the dogs. Puckett called the police, accompanied the police to Miller's home, and confronted Miller. The dogs were exhumed; an autopsy revealed that the dogs had not ingested any chicken nor had they been pricked by any chicken feathers. Puckett, as well as the dogs' trainer, swore that the dogs had never before bothered any livestock or fowl.

The language within TR. 41(B) permits the trial court to grant involuntary dismissal after the plaintiff has presented his case if "considering all the evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the party to whom the motion is directed, to be true, there is no substantial evidence of probative value to sustain the material allegations of the party against whom the motion is directed." Was there substantial evidence of probative value to sustain Puckett's claim against Miller?

Initially, we acknowledge that Puckett phrased his complaint in terms of negligence, and the trial judge seemed to imply by his judgment that Puckett was not at liberty to change theories mid-trial, I. e., if negligence was not proven, Puckett could not prevail. Civil litigation has evolved into a process of substance rather than forms. The pleadings could have been made to conform to the evidence at any time during the trial. See Ayr-Way Stores, Inc. v. Chitwood (1973), 261 Ind. 86, 300 N.E.2d 335. Therefore, our analysis of the evidence must be rather broad: could Puckett's material allegations be sustained on any theory?

A. Negligence Theory.

The trial court correctly enunciated the essential components of negligence: (1) duty imposed by law to do or not do a certain act; (2) breach of that duty; (3) injury caused by the breach. Miller specifically admitted that he Purposefully shot both dogs. The remaining question is whether he had the right to shoot the dogs, not whether he had a duty not to shoot them.

B. Statutory Right.

It is essentially undisputed that Puckett's dogs were unattended and trespassing upon Miller's property. Two statutes address this situation:

"Dog that has killed, chased, or worried stock or fowls Killing Penalty for keeping. Any dog that is known to have killed, maimed, chased or worried any sheep, cattle, horses, swine or other livestock or fowls, unless accompanied by his master or some other person, may be killed by any person, and any person who shall own, keep or harbor any dog, after he knows that such dog has killed or maimed, chased or worried any sheep, cattle, horses, swine, other livestock or fowls shall be fined in any sum not less than ten ($10.00) nor more than fifty dollars ($50.00)."

IC 1971, 15-5-8-1, Ind.Ann.Stat. § 16-203 (Burns Code Ed.).

"Killing roaming dog. If any dog shall be found roaming over the country unattended by his master or owner or his owner's agent, it shall be lawful to kill such dog."

IC 1971, 15-5-8-3, Ind.Ann.Stat. § 16-204 (Burns Code Ed.).

The factual conflict stems particularly from Puckett's allegations that the dogs had never bothered any fowl before and Miller's unequivocal statement that the dogs were jumping and pouncing about in a chicken enclosure. Miller's destruction of the dogs was statutorily protected (and the TR. 41(B) motion properly granted) if either of two situations existed: (1) Miller knew that the dogs had worried his chickens; (2) the dogs were found roaming over the country unattended.

Puckett encourages this Court to hold that under TR. 41(B) we are constrained to view only the evidence and inferences favorable to Puckett in order to determine whether dismissal should have been ordered. Obviously, Miller's statement that he saw the dogs worrying 1 his chickens is not favorable to Puckett's case, and Puckett would have us disregard it. He argues that we should draw the reasonable inference (from the statements of the trainer and Puckett himself) that since the dogs had Not been known (by him) to have bothered fowl in the past, they Did not bother Miller's fowl on the day they were shot. If the dogs were not worrying Miller's chickens, Miller could not have been justified in shooting them.

We cannot find that an inference that the dogs were Not worrying the chickens in Miller's barnyard would have been Necessarily reasonable at all. It is undisputed that the dogs were killed on August second on Miller's property. Puckett testified that August first was the first day of the running season for coon dogs and that his dogs had not been run in the area since March. The dogs were wet and dirty. Puckett admitted that one dog did not have a collar. Miller stated that he saw no collar. Even if we were to indulge in the inference that the dogs had no untoward motives in being in the vicinity of the chickens, Puckett offered no evidence that the dogs were Not jumping and pouncing about. A dangerous propensity on the part of an animal may be deduced from even playful conduct. Doe v. Barnett (1969), 145 Ind.App. 542, 251 N.E.2d 688. An owner or keeper of a domestic animal is bound to take notice of general propensities of the class to which it belongs as well as propensities peculiar to the animal itself; insofar as such propensities are of a nature Likely to cause injury he must exercise reasonable care to prevent such injury. Id.

Furthermore, the evidence clearly showed that the dogs were roaming unattended. Puckett acknowledged that he knew the dogs were loose, yet he went home to bed. Several hours passed between the time he went to bed and the time his wife began the search. Miller's shooting of the dogs was protected by the law in that the undisputed facts show that the dogs were shot during a period of time in which attempts to reclaim the dogs had been temporarily abandoned.

Webster defines "roam" as (1) "to go from place to place without purpose or direction" or (2) "to travel purposefully unhindered through a wide area." "Roam" and "run at large" are used synonymously in statutes and case law. IC 1971, 15-2-4-21, Ind.Ann.Stat. § 16-1722 (Burns Code Ed.) (now IC 1971, 15-2.1-21-8 (Burns Code Ed., Supp.1977)) provides that "(n)o owner or person responsible for any domestic animal shall permit such animal to run at large." IC 1971, 15-2-4-21, Supra, covers the same subject matter covered by IC 1971, 15-5-8-1, Supra, and IC 1971, 15-5-8-3, Supra. Statutes In pari materia are to be construed together. State v. Gerhardt (1896), 145 Ind. 439, 44 N.E. 469; Wayne Township v. Lutheran Hospital (1974), 160 Ind.App. 427, 312 N.E.2d 120. IC 1971, 15-2-4-21, Supra, has been interpreted to mean that when an owner has actual or constructive knowledge that his animal is running at large, he is deemed to have permitted the same. Sork v. Taylor Bros., Inc. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 626, 277 N.E.2d 5. It is a logical construct that Puckett must be deemed to have permitted the roaming.

Puckett relies very heavily upon the case of Seidner v. Dill (1965), 137 Ind.App. 177, 206 N.E.2d 636. We distinguish that case from the present consideration for four important reasons: (1) the appellate division applied well-known rules of review in affirming a decision in favor of the plaintiff-dog owner (the burden on appeal was...

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    ...of the dog to injure livestock as a factor in the scope of the reasonable care obligation of the owner or keeper. See Puckett v. Miller, 178 Ind.App. 174, 381 N.E.2d 1087 (1978) ; Denny v. Correll, 9 Ind. 72 (1857).14 The Van De Venters argue that the Bloomington Municipal Code does not app......
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    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
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    ...years. 13. Our research has revealed that in Seidner v. Dill, 137 Ind.App. 177, 206 N.E.2d 636 (1965), overruled by Puckett v. Miller, 178 Ind.App. 174, 381 N.E.2d 1087 (1978), the court was faced with a situation in which the defendant had shot and killed the plaintiff's dog which was on o......
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    • United States
    • Capital University Law Review No. 38-1, September 2009
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