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Esserman v. Indiana Department of Environmental Management

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 29, 2016

Suzanne E. Esserman, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Appellee-Defendant.

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court Trial Court Cause No. 49D04-1509-PL-32140 The Honorable Cynthia J. Ayers, Judge

          Attorneys for Appellant Mary Jane Lapointe Daniel Lapointe Kent Lapointe Law Firm, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Andrea E. Rahman Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Najam, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Suzanne E. Esserman appeals the trial court's dismissal of her complaint against the Indiana Department of Environmental Management ("IDEM"), in which Esserman alleged that IDEM had unlawfully terminated her employment, in violation of Indiana's False Claims Act, Ind. Code §§ 5-11-5.5-1 to -18 (2016), in retaliation for her reporting alleged misuse of State funds by certain IDEM officers. Esserman raises two issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court erred when it concluded that sovereign immunity barred the court from having subject matter jurisdiction over Esserman's complaint against IDEM.
2. Whether the trial court erred when it concluded that Esserman had failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         [¶2] We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] In her complaint against IDEM, Esserman alleged the following facts to be true:

5. At all times during her [nearly 25 years of] employment with IDEM, Esserman performed her job duties in a satisfactory manner.
6. During the course of her employment, Esserman discovered that certain individuals at IDEM were engaged in misuse of State funds.
7. Esserman made numerous objections to misuse of State funds and was terminated in retaliation for those objections.
8. Esserman objected to approval of some claims made by applicants for dispersal of State funds from the Excess Liability Trust Fund (ELTF), which pays for various projects including the remediation of contamination caused by leaking underground storage tanks. The ELTF is funded in large measure by tax dollars generated from the State tax on gasoline sales.
9. On many occasions, Esserman found that applicants had not properly documented their claims[] and therefore the claims were not "reasonable and cost effected [sic], " as required for ELTF funds under IC ยง ...

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