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City of Lawrence Utilities Service Board v. Curry

Supreme Court of Indiana

February 8, 2017

City of Lawrence Utilities Service Board, City of Lawrence, Indiana, and Mayor Dean Jessup, Individually and in His Official Capacity, Appellants (Defendants below),
Carlton E. Curry, Appellee (Plaintiff below).

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49D02-1212-CT-48783 The Honorable Timothy W. Oakes, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A02-1506-CT-699

          Attorneys for Appellants James S. Stephenson Rosemary L. Borek Stephenson Morow & Semler Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Mickey J. Lee Maurice Wutscher LLP Indianapolis, Indiana George W. Pendygraft George W. Pendygraft, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          MASSA, JUSTICE.

         The City of Lawrence's newly-elected mayor terminated the City's utility superintendent, Carlton Curry, after their differences in policy became apparent. Curry sued, claiming he was wrongfully discharged under the utility superintendent statute, he is owed unpaid wages under the Wage Payment Statute, and the mayor tortiously interfered with his employment contract. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Curry on the wrongful discharge claim and in favor of the City on the Wage Payment Statute claim, but denied summary judgment on the tortious interference claim. We affirm the trial court in all respects.

         Facts and Procedural History

         After recommendation by then-Mayor Paul Ricketts, the City of Lawrence Utility Service Board ("USB") members voted unanimously in 2009 to appoint Carlton Curry as superintendent of Lawrence Utilities, the City's municipally owned water and sewer utility. Mayor Ricketts and Curry worked closely to manage the City's utilities and craft long-term policies and plans, including advocating for a wastewater treatment plant.

         A little over two years later, Mayor Ricketts was defeated in the general election by Dean Jessup. Newly-elected Mayor Jessup and his transition team sent letters to department heads and Mayor Ricketts appointees inviting them to submit resumes and letters of interest, if they wished to be considered for retention. Among those sent correspondence was Curry, who submitted a letter and resume to Mayor Jessup and his team. Curry also personally communicated with Mayor Jessup and met with his transition team to give a presentation outlining his recommended strategic plans and initiatives.

         Eventually, Mayor Jessup learned about the proposed wastewater treatment plant, but had concerns regarding the project's magnitude and cost. Mayor Jessup believed that Curry would attempt to convince him to commit to the project:

If he and I disagreed, I would have to spend time and effort directing him to follow my objectives and would have to listen to him try to convince me to follow a different path. In the case of the wastewater treatment plant, he was clearly committed to going forward, while I had concerns and wanted to look into other options.

         Appellant's App. at 139. These feelings led Mayor Jessup to conclude that Curry "would attempt to force his views on [him] rather than follow [his] lead" and may have to be replaced. Appellant's App. at 139.

         After Mayor Jessup took office, he asked for the resignations of all prior mayoral appointees. Some refused, some resigned and were reappointed, and others were replaced, including the three USB members appointed by Mayor Ricketts. Mayor Jessup and Curry worked together some during the first few weeks after Mayor Jessup took office. However, Mayor Jessup continued to feel that Curry was trying to persuade him to adopt Curry's own policies and initiatives. Mayor Jessup, conversely, wanted a superintendent who would advocate for the mayor's views and objectives and give balanced advice. Ultimately, he believed these differences would result in conflict between him and Curry and understandably decided to replace him. Mayor Jessup then instructed the chairman of his transition team to inform Curry that his services were no longer needed. Curry was informed personally and via letter that he was terminated.

         Thereafter, Curry filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court against the City[1] on state and federal law grounds. The case was removed to federal court, which granted summary judgment in favor of the City on all of Curry's federal claims, and remanded the remaining state law claims to Marion Superior Court. Curry moved for summary judgment on his wrongful discharge claim, while the City cross-moved for summary judgment on all claims. After a hearing, the trial court granted Curry's motion as to wrongful discharge, granted the City's motion as to defamation and back pay under the Wage Payment Statute, Indiana Code chapter 22-2-5 (2007), and denied summary judgment as to intentional ...

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