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Fayette County Bd. of Comm'rs v. Price

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 6, 2014

FAYETTE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
HOWARD PRICE, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Appeal from the Fayette Circuit Court, No. 21C01-1103-PL-146. The Honorable Gregory A. Horn, Special Judge. On Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 21A04-1208-PL-434.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Rosemary L. Borek, Stephenson Morow & Semler, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: John H. Haskin, Ryan P. Sink, John H. Haskin & Associates, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR AMICUS CURIAE: Mark J. Crandley, John T.L. Koenig, Adam L. Bartrom, Richard J. Hall, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dickson, Chief Justice. Rucker, David, Massa, and Rush, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Dickson, Chief Justice.

Concluding that the decision of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners not to reap-point its County Highway Supervisor was a ministerial decision, not a quasi-judicial one, we hold that such employment decision was not subject to judicial review.

Page 641

Howard Price (" Price" ) was the Fayette County Highway Supervisor from 1991 to 2002 and again resumed that position in 2006. Price expected that his appointment " would continue indefinitely until he was replaced and terminated." Appellee's Br. at 5. At the February 8, 2011, meeting of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners (" Board" ), one of the Commissioners " made a motion to renew the appointment of Howard Price as Highway [Supervisor] for the standard 12 month period," which motion " died for lack of a second." Fayette County Board of Commissioners, Minutes (Feb. 8, 2011); Appellant's App'x at 184. Another Commissioner then made a motion to appoint a different person " as interim supervisor effective immediately until such time as the position can be advertised and a supervisor hired." Id. This motion was se-conded and approved on a 2-1 vote. Price thereafter brought this action " requesting a de novo hearing and review of the [Board's] decision to terminate [him]." Appellant's App'x at 7. The Board filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that its employment decision was not subject to judicial review. The trial court converted the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. In Price's response in opposition, he asserted that the termination of his employment " interrupted his continued and indefinite employment as Highway Supervisor . . . in contravention of principles of equity and fairness." Id. at 237-38. The trial court denied summary judgment, concluding that the Board's decision to terminate Price's continued employment was " quasi-judicial in nature" and thus subject to judicial review. Id. at 373. Upon the Board's request, however, the trial court certified its jurisdictional determination for interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals accepted the interlocutory appeal and affirmed the decision of the trial court. Fayette Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. Price, 988 N.E.2d 268, 271 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013). We granted transfer and now reverse, finding that summary judgment should have been granted for the Board.

The issue presented is whether the Board's actions regarding Price's employment--whether such actions are characterized as " not renewing" or as " terminating" --are subject to judicial review. The applicable statute provides: " A party to a proceeding before the [county] executive who is aggrieved by a decision of the executive may appeal that decision to the circuit court for the county." Ind. Code § 36-2-2-27 (a) (2012). But it has long been recognized that only judicial or " quasi-judicial" decisions, and not legislative, administrative, or ministerial ones, are subject to judicial review. Neswick v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Newton Cnty., 426 N.E.2d 50, 53 (Ind.Ct.App. 1981), trans. not sought . Price acknowledges this rule but contends that the Board's action should be considered quasi-judicial.

The applicable principles are discussed in Lincoln v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Tippecanoe Cnty., 510 N.E.2d 716 (Ind.Ct.App. 1987), abrogated in part on other grounds by McDillon v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 841 N.E.2d 1148 (Ind. 2006), and both parties cite Lincoln to support their arguments. In Lincoln, the court enunciated a four-factor test for determining whether an administrative action is judicial in nature--a prerequisite for entitlement to judicial review.

While it is difficult, if not impossible, to define quasi-judicial power and to discriminate between judicial and administrative acts in a way which will be applicable to every case, we find that it is the nature, quality, and purpose of the act performed, rather than the name or character of the officer or board which performs it, which determines its character

Page 642

as judicial. Generally, the judicial function consists of: (1) the presence of the parties upon notice; (2) the ascertainment of facts; (3) the determination of the issues; and (4) the rendition of a judgment or final ...

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