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Gary Community Schools, Corp. v. Lardydell

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 30, 2014

GARY COMMUNITY SCHOOL, CORPORATION, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
PRINCE LARDYDELL b/n/f, ERMA LARDYDELL, Appellee-Plaintiff

Page 242

APPEAL FROM THE LAKE SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Calvin D. Hawkins, Judge. Cause No. 45D02-0802-PL-56.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: TRACY A. COLEMAN, Robert L. Lewis & Associates, Gary, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: KEVIN W. MARSHALL, Hobart, Indiana.

DARDEN, Senior Judge. VAIDIK, C.J., and NAJAM, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 243

DARDEN, Senior Judge

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Gary Community Schools Corporation (" GCS" ) appeals the trial court's entry of judgment in favor of Prince Lardydell by his mother and next friend, Erma Lardydell. We affirm.

ISSUES

GCS raises three issues, which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence.
II. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in instructing the jury.
III. Whether the jury's damage award of $120,000 is supported by the evidence.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 4, 2006, Prince Lardydell, with aspirations of attending college, was a fifteen-year-old freshman student at West Side High School, which GCS owned, controlled, and operated. At that time, West Side High School had a uniformed police officer, with the power to arrest, patrolling outside the school. Inside, it had uniformed police officers, with the power to arrest, assigned to each of the school's two floors. In addition, the school had seven " supervisory aides," who were authorized to keep order in the school but did not have arrest powers. Tr. p. 346. The inside uniformed officers and aides patrolled the school's hallways. All of the officers and aides had electronic communications equipment. Also, the school had four administrators, one for each grade level, who were available to assist with safety issues.

Page 244

Teachers were responsible for monitoring the hallways outside their classrooms in between classes and had panic or alert buttons to summon safety personnel. Finally, there were seventy-two motion-sensitive video cameras placed throughout the school with a monitoring room.

On the day in question, Prince was in attendance at West Side. He was running late for one of his afternoon classes when several individuals approached him in a hallway. They attacked Prince, knocking him to the floor. Next, they surrounded him and kicked him repeatedly for five to ten minutes as he lay curled up into a fetal position. A teacher in a nearby classroom heard the attack and pressed a panic button. Prince screamed for help, but school safety personnel did not arrive until after the attack had ended and his assailants had left. Prince went to class and finished the school day; however, his mother, Erma, later took him to the emergency room when he complained of headaches.

GCS identified the attackers and expelled two of them from West Side High School. As a result of the attack, Prince had become frightened, and Erma did not allow Prince to attend West Side for the rest of the semester.

Prince was referred to neurologist Dr. Julian Ungar-Sargon, who first saw him on June 5, 2006. Prince complained of headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, problems with concentration, and memory problems. After performing several tests, Dr. Ungar-Sargon diagnosed Prince with a mild concussion. He billed Prince $1186 for two appointments and the tests. Id. at 231. Prince's headaches gradually went away over the next eighteen months.

Prince suffered from " a lot of depression" after the attack and hardly left home during the summer following the attack. Id. at 276. When Prince told Erma he was considering suicide, the Lardydells became extremely concerned and moved to Indianapolis, leaving the only home Prince had ever known. Prince attended a new high school in Indianapolis, where his grades suffered. After graduating, Prince could only obtain part-time employment. He continued to suffer from mental anguish, continued to be fearful of going outside his home, and had difficulty interacting with and trusting people. Further, he was unable to attend college because of his poor high school grades, which further depressed him.

Prince, by Erma, sued GCS.[1] The case was tried to a jury. Among other witnesses, Prince submitted testimony from Andrea Ledbetter, who had served on GCS's board at the time of the attack. At the close of Prince's case, GCS moved for judgment on the evidence, asserting he had failed to provide evidence of negligence or damages. The court denied GCS's motion. The jury found in favor of Prince, awarding damages of $120,000.

After the jury returned its verdict, GCS orally moved for remittitur, and the court denied the motion. Next, GCS filed a Motion for a New Trial, Remittitur, and/or to Alter or Amend Judgment. The court denied GCS's motion after a hearing. This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION

I. ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE

The decision to admit or exclude evidence rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed only

Page 245

upon a manifest abuse of discretion. Estate of Carter v. Szymczak, 951 N.E.2d 1, 5 (Ind.Ct.App. 2011), trans. denied . An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's decision is contrary to the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before it. Id. We will not reverse the trial court's admission of evidence absent a showing of prejudice. Id.

GCS asserts the trial court should not have permitted Ledbetter, a former GCS board member, to testify about a video she reviewed in a May 2006 executive session of GCS's board or to describe the topics discussed at an April 2005 GCS executive board session. GCS asserts that the doctrine of qualified privilege applies to all discussions held during its board's executive sessions.

GCS acknowledges that its board is subject to the requirements of Indiana's Open Door Law, which is codified at Indiana Code sections 5-14-1.5-1 through 5-14-1.5-8. The Open Door Law requires that " official action of public agencies be conducted and taken openly, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, in order that the people may be fully informed." Ind. Code ยง 5-14-1.5-1 (1987). The provisions of the Open ...


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