St. John Town Bd. v. Lambert, No. 45A05-9905-CV-221.

Docket NºNo. 45A05-9905-CV-221.
Citation725 N.E.2d 507
Case DateMarch 28, 2000
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

725 N.E.2d 507

ST. JOHN TOWN BOARD, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Gene LAMBERT and Lana Lindsey, Appellee-Plaintiffs

No. 45A05-9905-CV-221.

Court of Appeals of Indiana.

March 28, 2000.


725 N.E.2d 511
Timothy F. Kelly, Steven J. Sersic, Law Offices of Timothy F. Kelly and Associates, Munster, Indiana, Attorneys for Appellant

P. Jeffrey Schlesinger, Crown Point, Indiana, Attorney for Appellee.

725 N.E.2d 508
725 N.E.2d 509

725 N.E.2d 510
OPINION

ROBB, Judge

The St. John Town Board ("St.John") appeals the trial court's denial of its summary judgment motion, and the judgment entered after a bench trial in favor of Gene Lambert and Lana Lindsey Howard1 (collectively referred to as the "plaintiffs").

We affirm.

Issues

St. John raises the following consolidated and restated issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court erred in denying St. John's motion for summary judgment because St. John retained absolute sovereign immunity to the plaintiffs' claim for damages; and

2. Whether the trial court erred in denying St. John's summary judgment motion because Lambert was contributorily negligent as a matter of law.

3. Whether the trial court's findings of facts and conclusions of law are clearly erroneous.

Facts and Procedural History

The undisputed facts and the facts most favorable to the non-movant reveal that on the evening of February 25, 1992, the plaintiffs visited Howard's grandmother in Schererville, Indiana. While visiting Howard's grandmother, Lambert and Howard consumed several alcoholic beverages. Around 9:30 p.m., the plaintiffs left Howard's grandmother's house for their home in Cedar Lake, Indiana. Lambert was driving his truck and Howard was sitting next to him on the passenger's side of the vehicle. Because it was raining, the road conditions were slick.

As they traveled home, Lambert took a wrong turn at a T-intersection and proceeded toward St. John, Indiana. Thereafter, Lambert turned onto Mallard Lane, a road with which he was unfamiliar. Mallard Lane ends in a cul-de-sac. Lambert drove down Mallard Lane at thirty or thirty-five miles an hour before traveling off the cul-de-sac into a ditch. As a result of the accident, the plaintiffs were injured.

Consequently, on February 25, 1994, the plaintiffs filed suit in the Lake County

725 N.E.2d 512
Superior Court against the town board of the Town of St. John, Indiana, alleging that St. John was negligent in failing to post signs, erect lights, or install warning devices on Mallard Lane in order to notify the general public that the road ended in a cul-de-sac. On April 29, 1994, St. John filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court later denied on September 30, 1998. Following a bench trial on January 19, 1999, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Lambert in the amount of $5,050.00, and for Howard in the amount of $15,289.50. This appeal ensued

I. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment

The purpose of summary judgment is to terminate litigation about which there can be no factual dispute and which may be determined as a matter of law. Bastin v. First Indiana Bank, 694 N.E.2d 740, 743 (Ind.Ct.App.1998), trans. denied. When reviewing a grant or denial of summary judgment, this court applies the same standard as does a trial court. USA Life One Ins. Co. v. Nuckolls, 682 N.E.2d 534, 537 (Ind.1997). Summary judgment should be granted only if the designated evidentiary material shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Hoskins v. Sharp, 629 N.E.2d 1271, 1276 (Ind.Ct. App.1994). On review, we may not search the entire record to support the judgment, but may only consider that evidence which had been specifically designated to the trial court. North Snow Bay, Inc. v. Hamilton, 657 N.E.2d 420, 422 (Ind.Ct.App. 1995). The party appealing the denial of summary judgment has the burden of persuading this court on appeal that the trial court's ruling was erroneous. See Warner Trucking, Inc. v. Carolina Cas. Ins. Co., 686 N.E.2d 102, 104 (Ind.1997). We resolve any doubt about a fact or any inference to be drawn from it in favor of the nonmoving party. Claxton v. Hutton, 615 N.E.2d 471, 473 (Ind.Ct.App.1993). Summary judgment should not be used as an abbreviated trial. Brunner v. Trustees of Purdue Univ., 702 N.E.2d 759, 760 (Ind. Ct.App.1998), trans. denied.

II. Common Law Sovereign Immunity2

St. John contends that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment because it was entitled to sovereign immunity under the common law of Indiana.3 We disagree.

A. "Governmental Unit"

Our initial inquiry is to determine whether St. John is a governmental unit under the common law. St. John is a legislative body. St. John is comprised of three council members who act on behalf of the Town when they adopt and promulgate zoning ordinances. R. 118. See Ind. Code §§ 36-7-4-500, et seq. Thus, St. John is a governmental unit because it is essentially an "arm or extension of a municipality." See Brinkman v. City of Indianapolis, 141 Ind.App. 662, 668-69, 231 N.E.2d 169, 173 (1967). Because St. John is a governmental unit under the common law, we must now determine whether it is shielded from suit under common law sovereign immunity.

B. Abrogation of Common Law Sovereign Immunity

Common law sovereign immunity has long been recognized in Indiana.4 See e.g.,

725 N.E.2d 513
Perkins v. State, 252 Ind. 549, 552-53, 251 N.E.2d 30, 32 (1969). However, Indiana appellate courts in the last forty years have abrogated common law sovereign immunity in almost all respects.

1. Governmental/Proprietary Rule

The first major step toward abrogation of the doctrine of sovereign immunity occurred in 1960, when the Indiana Supreme Court held that local governmental units were immune under the common law from tort liability in the performance of "government functions," but they were not immune from tort liability under the common law with respect to "proprietary functions."5 See Flowers v. Board of Comm'rs of County of Vanderburgh, 240 Ind. 668, 671, 168 N.E.2d 224, 225 (1960). Thereafter, courts were required to determine whether governmental units were performing "proprietary6 functions," those functions which a unit in its discretion may perform to promote the comfort, convenience, safety, and happiness of citizens, or "government functions," those functions which are essential to the unit's existence, such as dispensing or exercising some element of sovereignty.

Later, the Court abolished the governmental/proprietary rule and held that sovereign immunity was no longer applicable to the state. Campbell v. State, 259 Ind. 55, 60, 284 N.E.2d 733, 737 (Ind.1972). The Court abolished the governmental/proprietary rule in Campbell because of the difficulties in distinguishing between "government functions" and "proprietary functions," reasoning that the distinction was best left to the Indiana General Assembly. Id. at 736.

The breadth of the language in Campbell eliminating sovereign immunity essentially resulted in governmental units being liable for torts in almost all respects as a private individual. The Court reasoned that this end result was just because "[t]he elimination of sovereign immunity means a more equitable distribution of losses in society, rather than forcing individuals to face the total loss of the injury." Id. After Campbell, all governmental units were bound by a duty to use ordinary and reasonable care under the circumstances, essentially the "duty owed to a private individual." See Neal v. Home Builders, Inc., 232 Ind. 160, 168-69, 111 N.E.2d 280, 285 (1953). Governmental units were bound by this duty, directly and derivatively, under a theory of respondeat superior.

In the past, Indiana appellate courts established several legal principles to assist in deciphering whether governmental units were immune from tort liability under the common law. Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court, recognizing that several areas of confusion had arisen with regard to common law sovereign immunity, clarified the doctrine in Benton v. City

725 N.E.2d 514
of Oakland City, Indiana, 721 N.E.2d 224 (Ind.1999).7 We will only address the confusion originating from the private duty/public duty dichotomy that has developed in Indiana appellate courts.8

2. Benton v. City of Oakland City

In Benton, the Indiana Supreme Court stated that the earlier decisions after Campbell correctly interpreted the phrase "duty owed to a private individual" as nothing more than a "duty to use reasonable care." Id. at 228. See Miller v. Griesel, 261 Ind. 604, 612, 308 N.E.2d 701, 706 (1974); Roberts v. State, 159 Ind.App. 456, 462, 307 N.E.2d 501, 505 (1974). The Court in Benton effectively rejected the private duty/public duty dichotomy, which looked to whether "the duty alleged to have been breached was a `private one' or a `public one,'" and reaffirmed its earlier holding in Campbell that a governmental unit is bound by the same duty of care as a private individual, except in a few limited circumstances. Benton, 721 N.E.2d at 230.

The Court in Benton also listed three circumstances where a governmental unit could invoke common law sovereign immunity, these being: (1) where a city or state fails to provide adequate police protection to prevent crime; (2) where a state official makes an appointment of an individual whose incompetent performance gives rise to a suit alleging negligence on the part of a state official for making such an appointment; and (3) where judicial decision-making is challenged. Id; see Campbell, 284 N.E.2d at 737. Recently, we held that under the common law enunciated in Campbell and reaffirmed in Benton, the failure to provide adequate fire protection should be treated as an exception to governmental tort liability. Gates v. Town of Chandler, Water Dep't., 725 N.E.2d 117, 120 (Ind.Ct.App. 2000) (opinion on rehearing). Thus, the...

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  • Kovera v. Envirite of Ill., Inc., No. 1–13–3049.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • January 30, 2015
    ...Board of Commissioners of Delaware County v. Briggs, 167 Ind.App. 96, 337 N.E.2d 852, 875 (1975) ; St. John Town Board v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 517 (Ind.Ct.App.2000) (finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a driver operated his vehicle too fast for weather ......
  • Richmond State Hosp. v. Brattain, No. 49A02-0908-CV-718
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • October 8, 2010
    ...erroneous when the record lacks any evidence or reasonable inferences from the evidence to support them." St. John Town Bd. v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 518 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). "A judgment is clearly erroneous when it is unsupported by the findings of fact." Id. We will reverse the judgmen......
  • RICHMOND State Hosp. v. BRATTAIN, No. 49A02-0908-CV-718.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • December 27, 2010
    ...erroneous when the record lacks any evidence or reasonable inferences from the evidence to support them.” St. John Town Bd. v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 518 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). “A judgment is clearly erroneous when it is unsupported by the findings of fact.” Id. We will reverse the judgment o......
  • Hays v. Bardasian, Cause No. 3:08-CV-518-AS-CAN.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • May 8, 2009
    ...the relationship between the parties, the reasonable foreseeability of harm, and public policy concerns); St. John Town Board v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 519 (Ind.Ct.App.2000) (finding that the passenger was not contributorily The Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Weigandt, who knew that his son-i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Kovera v. Envirite of Ill., Inc., No. 1–13–3049.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • January 30, 2015
    ...Board of Commissioners of Delaware County v. Briggs, 167 Ind.App. 96, 337 N.E.2d 852, 875 (1975) ; St. John Town Board v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 517 (Ind.Ct.App.2000) (finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a driver operated his vehicle too fast for weather ......
  • Richmond State Hosp. v. Brattain, No. 49A02-0908-CV-718
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • October 8, 2010
    ...erroneous when the record lacks any evidence or reasonable inferences from the evidence to support them." St. John Town Bd. v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 518 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). "A judgment is clearly erroneous when it is unsupported by the findings of fact." Id. We will reverse the judgmen......
  • RICHMOND State Hosp. v. BRATTAIN, No. 49A02-0908-CV-718.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • December 27, 2010
    ...erroneous when the record lacks any evidence or reasonable inferences from the evidence to support them.” St. John Town Bd. v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 518 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). “A judgment is clearly erroneous when it is unsupported by the findings of fact.” Id. We will reverse the judgment o......
  • Hays v. Bardasian, Cause No. 3:08-CV-518-AS-CAN.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • May 8, 2009
    ...the relationship between the parties, the reasonable foreseeability of harm, and public policy concerns); St. John Town Board v. Lambert, 725 N.E.2d 507, 519 (Ind.Ct.App.2000) (finding that the passenger was not contributorily The Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Weigandt, who knew that his son-i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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