The Board of Commissioners of Union County, Indiana, Appellant (Plaintiff below),
Joe McGuinness, in his Official Capacity as Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Department of Transportation, Appellees (Defendants below).
from the Union Circuit Court, No. 81C01-1507-PL-118 The
Honorable Brian D. Hill, Special Judge
Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT James R. Williams Matthew L. Kelsey
DeFur Voran LLP Muncie, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Andrea E. Rahman David L. Steiner Deputy Attorneys
General Indianapolis, Indiana.
Board of Commissioners of Union County ("Union
County") sought a declaratory judgment and an injunction
against the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of
Transportation, and the Department itself (collectively
"INDOT") alleging that INDOT was negligent in its
highway repair efforts, causing damage to several neighboring
septic systems of Union County residents. The trial court
dismissed the suit, finding Union County did not have
standing to sue INDOT for injury done to its residents. We
agree, and affirm.
and Procedural History
or 2011, INDOT performed construction and repair work on U.S.
Route 27 in Union County. While undertaking this project, INDOT
allegedly caused "septic system issues" on three
landowners' private property. Appellant's App. at 25.
After broaching the matter with INDOT with unsatisfactory
results, Union County filed this action for a declaratory
judgment and an injunction against INDOT, seeking repair of
the septic systems and "[a]n Order declaring [U.S.]
highway 27 and any associated storm drain the responsibility
of INDOT and not Union County, Indiana[.]"
Appellant's App. at 25. INDOT filed a motion to dismiss
pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6), asserting Union
County lacked standing to sue and thus had failed to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted. The trial court
agreed, granted the motion to dismiss, and subsequently
denied Union County's motion to correct error. Union
County appealed, and our Court of Appeals reversed, finding
that a declaratory judgment was an appropriate vehicle for
resolving the question of "responsibility" for U.S.
Route 27, and Union County could maintain an action for
injunctive relief on behalf of its citizens under third-party
standing doctrines, specifically public standing,
associational standing, and parens patriae
authority. Bd. of Comm'rs of Union Cty. v.
Hendrickson, 67 N.E.3d 1061, 1067-71 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016).
We hereby grant INDOT's petition to transfer, and vacate
the Court of Appeals' decision below. Ind. Appellate Rule
review de novo the trial court's grant or denial of a
motion based on Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6)."
Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC v. Kephart, 934 N.E.2d
1120, 1122 (Ind. 2010).In so reviewing, "we look at the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, with
every inference drawn in its favor, to determine if there is
any set of allegations under which the plaintiff could be
granted relief." King v. S.B., 837 N.E.2d 965,
966 (Ind. 2005). "A dismissal under Trial Rule 12(B)(6)
is improper unless it appears to a certainty that the
plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of
County Has Not Pled Adequate Facts to Maintain a Declaratory
Judgment Action on Its Own Behalf.
Trial Rule 8(A) places a lower limit on a plaintiff's
pleading obligation, requiring only "a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief." Nevertheless, "[a]though the plaintiff
need not set out in precise detail the facts upon which the
claim is based, [they] must still plead the operative facts
necessary to set forth an actionable claim." Trail
v. Boys & Girls Clubs of Nw. Indiana, 845 N.E.2d
130, 135 (Ind. 2006). Among such "operative" facts
in a declaratory judgment action are those necessary to
support that the plaintiff has personal standing to bring
suit. See State ex rel. Cittadine v. Indiana Dep't of
Transp., 790 N.E.2d 978, 984 (Ind. 2003) (upholding the
vitality of the public standing doctrine in Indiana, but
noting that with respect to actions brought under the
Declaratory Judgment Act, plaintiffs "must be persons
'whose rights, status, or other legal relations are
affected by a statute, municipal ordinance, contract, or
franchise . . . .'" (quoting Ind. Code §
34-14-1-2)); see also Redev. Comm'n of Town of
Munster v. Indiana State Bd. of Accounts, 28 N.E.3d 272,
276 (Ind.Ct.App. 2015), trans. denied ("In
order to obtain declaratory relief, the person bringing the
action must have a substantial present interest in the relief
sought." (internal quotations omitted)).
general rule of standing holds that "the proper person
to invoke the court's power" is limited to those
"who have a personal stake in the outcome of the
litigation and who show that they have suffered or were in
immediate danger of suffering a direct injury as a result of
the complained-of conduct[.]" Cittadine, 790
N.E.2d at 979. Our Court of Appeals found that Union County
could maintain its declaratory judgment action, finding the
allegations "may be viewed as akin to a dispute
regarding ownership of or title to real property, which is an
appropriate matter for resolution by declaratory
judgment." Hendrickson, 67 N.E.3d at 1066.
inference necessary to adopt this viewpoint is that Union
County has some underlying property interest at issue--and
Union County has provided no facts or evidence in its
pleadings to support that inference. Indeed, Union County has identified only
INDOT as having control over U.S. Route 27, and three local
landowners who own adjacent property. The only connection
with U.S. Route 27 that Union County has pled is its physical
presence within the county, which does not in and of itself
reasonably support the inference that Union County has any
responsibility for it, particularly since it is a federal
highway that the State must maintain. See supra note
1. Moreover, it is not a foregone conclusion that Union
County has any direct property interest at stake (in the
absence of pled facts or evidence to the contrary), since
U.S. Route 27 may merely rest upon a public right-of-way,
rather than government property acquired through condemnation
or eminent domain proceedings. See, e.g., Contel
of Indiana, Inc. v. Coulson, 659 N.E.2d 224, 227
(Ind.Ct.App. 1995) (examining whether the State could grant a
telephone company the right to bury cable adjacent to State
Road 63, and noting that typically with former county roads
in Indiana "the property rights of abutting landowners
extend to the center of the ...