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Peoples State Bank v. Benton Twp. of Monroe Cnty.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 25, 2015

The Peoples State Bank, Appellant-Plaintiff,
Benton Township of Monroe County, Indiana, Appellee-Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the Monroe Circuit Court. The Honorable E. Michael Hoff, Judge. Cause No. 53C01-1305-PL-910.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Christopher S. Roberge, Elizabeth A. Roberge, Anelia T.N. Ray, Roberge Law, Carmel, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Douglas A. Hoffman, Jeremy M. Dilts, Carson Boxberger LLP, Bloomington, Indiana.

Bailey, Judge. Robb, J., and Brown, J., concur.


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Bailey, Judge.

Case Summary

[¶ 1] The Peoples State Bank (" the Bank" ) appeals the denial of its motion to correct error, which challenged a grant of summary judgment in favor of Benton Township of Monroe County, Indiana (" Benton Township" ) upon the Bank's collection complaint. The Bank presents a single, consolidated issue for review: whether summary judgment was improvidently granted to Benton Township as opposed to the Bank, upon the trial court's conclusion that a loan transaction was void. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶ 2] The relevant facts are not in dispute. In 2011, Benton Township Trustee Heather Cohee (" Cohee" ) secured a loan from the Bank to purchase a fire truck. She acted without a prior appropriation of funds by Benton Township or compliance with statutory procedures allowing taxpayers an opportunity to remonstrate.[1]

[¶ 3] In order to procure the loan, Cohee produced paperwork including minutes of a township board meeting held on October 24, 2011, at which the fire truck replacement plan and need for bids was favorably discussed. Also included were a notice of a public hearing regarding plans for a new fire truck, a notice to bid, and minutes of a meeting where the successful bidder -- Wynn Fire Equipment, LLC (" Wynn" ) -- was selected.

[¶ 4] Benton Township part-time employee Danielle Coe executed a promissory note for $335,295, signing as the Benton Township Trustee. The Bank then deposited $335,295 into Benton Township's checking account. Benton Township paid Wynn $287,149 for a fire truck and $616.52 for some related equipment. The excess loan proceeds of $47,529.48 that had been deposited into Benton Township's account were used for other township purposes.

[¶ 5] Benton Township did not pay the promissory note installments as they came due. Cohee resigned amidst allegations of financial improprieties unrelated to the fire truck acquisition. On January 28, 2012, the Indiana State Board of Accounts issued its Independent Accountant's Report based upon a review of Benton Township records. The report contained the conclusion that the fire truck purchase was made " with proceeds of a loan that was not properly approved by the Township Board." (App. 307.) The report further indicated that neither the Trustee nor the Township Board had signed the promissory note.

[¶ 6] The Bank seized Benton Township checking account funds and applied those funds in setoff to sums due under the promissory note. On December 21, 2012, the Bank and Benton Township entered into a Partial Settlement & Dispute Resolution Agreement. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Benton Township surrendered the fire truck, and the Bank sold it for $212,866.00 and applied the funds to

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the outstanding loan. The Bank restored the funds it had previously taken as an offset, except for $30,000, which was by agreement applied to the loan. Benton Township also made a $37,529.48 payment.[2]

[¶ 7] After the sale proceeds and payments were applied, the Bank sought $102,273.90 in principal and interest, plus attorney's fees and costs of $45,757.65. On May 8, 2013, the Bank filed a complaint against Benton Township. Benton Township answered the complaint, denying that the Bank was entitled to any additional recovery.

[¶ 8] On February 27, 2014, the Bank filed a motion for summary judgment. On March 25, 2014, Benton Township filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. A hearing on those motions was conducted on June 12, 2014. On July 2, 2014, the trial court entered an order granting summary judgment to Benton Township, concluding that the loan transaction was void because of the failure to provide taxpayers with statutorily-required notice and an opportunity for remonstrance. The Bank filed a motion to correct error, which was denied. This appeal ensued.

Discussion and Decision

Standard of Review

[¶ 9] The Bank contends that the trial court erred when it denied the Bank's motion to correct error following the grant of summary judgment in favor of Benton Township. We generally review the denial of a motion to correct error for an abuse of discretion. Kornelik v. Mittal Steel USA, Inc., 952 N.E.2d 320, 324 (Ind.Ct.App. 2011), trans. denied. An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's decision is against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court, or if the court has misinterpreted the law. Hawkins v. Cannon, 826 N.E.2d 658, 661 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005), trans. denied. Questions of law are reviewed de novo and we owe no deference to the trial court's legal conclusions. In re Guardianship of Phillips, 926 N.E.2d 1103, 1106 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010).

[¶ 10] Here, the Bank's motion to correct error sought to set aside a grant of summary judgment. A trial court's grant of summary judgment on appeal to this Court is '" clothed with a presumption of validity," ' and an appellant has the burden of demonstrating that the grant of summary judgment was erroneous. Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 762 (Ind. 2009) (quoting Rosi v. Bus. Furniture Corp., 615 N.E.2d 431, 434 (Ind. 1993)). The standard of review is not altered by the fact that the parties made cross-motions for summary judgment. Ind. Farmers Mut. Ins. Grp. v. Blaskie, 727 N.E.2d 13, 15 (Ind.Ct.App. 2000). Instead, we consider each motion separately according to our well established standard of review:

When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, our standard of review is the same as that of the trial court. Considering only those facts that the parties designated to the trial court, we must determine whether there is a " genuine issue as to any material fact" and whether " the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." In answering these questions, the reviewing court construes all factual inferences in the non-moving party's favor and resolves all doubts as to the existence of a material issue against the moving party. ...

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