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Nolan v. Clarksville Police Department

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 23, 2016

Kyleigh Nolan, Appellant-Plaintiff,
Clarksville Police Department and Town of Clarksville, Indiana, Appellees-Defendants.

         Appeal from the Clark Circuit Court Honorable Susan L. Orth, Special Judge Trial Court Cause No. 10C04-1403-CT-44

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Matthew J. Schad George A. Budd, V Schad & Schad, P.C. New Albany, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES R. Jeffrey Lowe Crystal G. Rowe New Albany, Indiana

          Vaidik, Chief Judge

         Case Summary

         [1] Nineteen-year-old Kyleigh Nolan volunteered to play the role of a hostage in a training exercise being conducted by the Clarksville Police Department. She was injured and later sued the police department and the Town of Clarksville. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants after finding that Nolan had failed to provide sufficient pre-suit notice of her claim pursuant to the Indiana Tort Claims Act ("ITCA"). While we agree that Nolan failed to comply with the statutory-notice requirement, we also conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants, by virtue of their own conduct following the incident, are estopped from asserting Nolan's non-compliance as a defense. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. On remand, Nolan is entitled to present her estoppel claim to the jury at trial.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [2] In accordance with the standard of review in summary-judgment matters, we begin by reciting the evidence most favorable to the non-moving party, Nolan. In June 2012, Nolan was employed at a store in the Green Tree Mall in Clarksville. The Clarksville Police Department was conducting a training exercise at the mall, and Nolan agreed to act as a hostage. As the hostage scenario was being played out, Nolan was involved in a collision with officers, and her nose was broken. The police department called for an ambulance, but Nolan, who was nineteen at the time, declined assistance and called her mother instead. Nolan's mother went to the mall, and Chief Mark Palmer, who was present for the training exercise, told Nolan and her mother that the police department would cover Nolan's medical expenses relating to the accident. Chief Palmer also told them that bills should be sent to the Town of Clarksville and that "if they sent them to the Police Department the office manager would forward them to the Town's insurance representative." Appellant's App. p. 162.

         [3] Over the next few months, Nolan continued to contact Chief Palmer, and her mother did the same. Nolan attempted to reach him via e-mail and telephone in mid-to-late July and then went to the police station in August and tried, but was unable, to meet with him to provide medical bills. Nolan's mother emailed with Chief Palmer and met with him in person, at which time he told her that "the Clarksville Police would be taking care of the bills and not to worry about it." Id. at 127. Nolan's mother later brought some bills to the police department and gave them to a receptionist, who said that she would give them to Chief Palmer. However, neither the police department nor the Town of Clarksville has ever paid any of Nolan's medical bills.

         [4] In early 2014, Nolan filed a lawsuit against the police department and the town (collectively, "the Town"). The Town filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that Nolan had not provided pre-suit notice of her claim within 180 days of the incident, as required by the ITCA, and that her claim is therefore barred. See Ind. Code § 34-13-3-8 ("[A] claim against a political subdivision is barred unless notice is filed with . . . the governing body of that political subdivision . . . within one hundred eighty (180) days after the loss occurs.").

         [5] In response, Nolan conceded that she had not filed a "formal" notice of claim but argued that her contacts with the Town amounted to substantial compliance with the statutory requirement. Alternatively, she argued that, even if she had not substantially complied with the ITCA, the Town led her to believe that formal notice would not be necessary and should therefore be estopped from asserting non-compliance as a defense.

         [6] After hearing oral argument from counsel, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Town, concluding that Nolan "did not provide sufficient notice to Defendants until well after th[e] statutory period had expired." Appellant's App. p. 16. The court did not specifically address Nolan's estoppel claim in its order.

         [7] Nolan now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

         [8] Nolan contends that the trial court erred by concluding that she failed to comply with the pre-suit notice requirement of the ITCA and by granting summary judgment in favor of the Town on that basis. It is well established that in reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we address the issues de novo, giving no deference to the trial court's decision. Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 761 (Ind. 2009); Ind. Dep't of Corr. v. Swanson Servs. Corp., 820 N.E.2d 733, 736-37 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005), reh'g denied, trans. denied. Nonetheless, both parties agree that we are to review a summary judgment based on non-compliance with the ITCA using the deferential "negative judgment" standard, under which we reverse "only if the evidence in the record, along with all reasonable inferences, is without conflict and leads unerringly to a conclusion opposite that reached by the trial court." Infinity Products, Inc. v. Quandt, 810 N.E.2d 1028, 1032 (Ind. 2004) (quoting DiMizio v. Romo, 756 N.E.2d 1018, 1021 (Ind.Ct.App. ...

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