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Amos v. Vigo County Council

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

March 8, 2017

Susan S. Amos, M.D., Plaintiff,
Vigo County Council, and Vigo County Treasurer Jim Bramble, in his official capacity, Defendants.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge.

         Plaintiff Susan Amos, M.D., is a female physician who was elected Coroner of Vigo County, Indiana in November 2012. Her predecessor as Coroner, Dr. Ronald Kohr, is a male physician specializing in pathology who performed autopsies in Vigo County without charging the County fees in addition to his Coroner salary. Prior to his retirement in 2012, Dr. Kohr advised Defendant the Vigo County Council (the “Council”) that because he would no longer be performing autopsies free of charge (since he would no longer be the Coroner), Vigo County would need to budget an additional $50, 000 for autopsies to pay either to him or to other individuals that would perform autopsies after his retirement. Additionally, certain property tax caps enacted by the Indiana General Assembly had reduced the County's tax revenue and thus affected its overall budget. Vigo County also determined that it was paying its Coroner significantly more than the average salary of coroners in comparably sized counties. Because of the necessity of adding $50, 000 to the budget to account for Dr. Kohr's free autopsy services, implementation of the property tax cap, and the realization that the Vigo County coroner was being paid more than other counties' coroners, the Council adopted a budget in the fall of 2012 that reduced the coroner's base salary from $45, 579 (Dr. Kohr's salary) to $21, 270. Dr. Amos ran unopposed for Coroner in the 2012 election, and took office on January 1, 2013.

         Dr. Amos initiated this litigation in December 2015, claiming that the Council and Defendant Vigo County Treasurer Jim Bramble, in his official capacity, discriminated against her based on her gender by reducing the Coroner salary. Presently pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Vigo County and Mr. Bramble. [Filing No. 35.]

         I. Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not be considered. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

         II. Statement of Facts

         The following statement of facts was evaluated pursuant to the standards set forth above, that is, they are either undisputed[1] or presented in the light most favorable to Dr. Amos:[2]

         A. The Vigo County Coroner Position

         The Vigo County Coroner position is a publicly elected office with a four year term. Ind. Const. Art. 6, § 2(a). Duties of the Coroner include: “1. IDENTIFICATION of the deceased; 2. Determination of the CAUSE of death; and 3. Determination of the MANNER of death.” (last visited March 7, 2017). A Vigo County Coroner may not serve more than two consecutive terms. Ind. Const. Art. 6, § 2(c). The Council is responsible for setting the salary for publicly elected Vigo County officials, including the Coroner. [Filing No. 41-18 at 4.] Since 1989, the Vigo County Coroner has been either Dr. Kohr or Dr. Amos. [Filing No. 41-16 at 2-3.]

         B. Dr. Kohr's Initial Terms As Coroner

         Dr. Kohr is a medical doctor specializing in pathology. [Filing No. 35-1 at 12.] He served two terms as Coroner from 1989 to 1996, where he received a salary equal to other elected officials in Vigo County including the Assessor, Auditor, Clerk, Recorder, Surveyor, and Treasurer. [Filing No. 41-16 at 2.] Because Dr. Kohr was limited to serving two consecutive terms as Coroner, he spoke with Dr. Amos about running for Coroner when his term was up. [Filing No. 41-17 at 18-19.] ¶ 1996, Dr. Kohr hired Dr. Amos as a deputy Coroner so that she would “get more of a feel for the office” before she ran for Coroner. [Filing No. 41-17 at 19.]

         C. Dr. Amos' Initial Terms As Coroner

         Dr. Amos won the election in 1996, and served as Coroner from 1997 to 2004. [Filing No. 41-16 at 2.] During that time, she received a salary equal to the salaries of the Vigo County Assessor, Auditor, Clerk, Recorder, Surveyor, and Treasurer. [Filing No. 41-16 at 2.]

         D. Dr. Kohr's Second Terms as Coroner

         Following Dr. Amos' initial two consecutive terms, Dr. Kohr served as Coroner again from 2005 to 2012. [Filing No. 41-16 at 3.] While serving as Coroner during this time, Dr. Kohr performed autopsies required by the Coroner's office without charging professional fees in excess of the salary authorized for the Coroner position by the Council. [Filing No. 35-9 at 2.] Dr. Amos was aware that Dr. Kohr was performing autopsies without assessing any professional fee for those services. [Filing No. 35-1 at 13-14.]

         E. Salary for Dr. Kohr's Successor

         1. Budget Increase for Autopsies

         In 2012, as Dr. Kohr's second two consecutive terms were coming to an end, Dr. Kohr reminded members of the Council that he would be retiring as Coroner at the end of the year and would no longer be performing autopsies as part of his Coroner duties. [Filing No. 35-9 at 2; see also Filing No. 35-12 at 5 (agenda for Council's June 18, 2012 Annual Budget Committee meeting stating “Autopsy Fees - Dr. Kohr will no longer be County Coroner and autopsies will be charged on individual basis”).] Specifically, Dr. Kohr advised the Council's Budget Committee that the Coroner's budget would need to increase its budget line item for ...

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