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Liddle v. Clark

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 23, 2018

Melodie Liddle, Appellant-Plaintiff,
Cameron F. Clark, in his official capacity as Director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Paul Sipples, as an individual and in his official capacity as Manager of Versailles State Park, and Harry Bloom, Appellees-Defendants.

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Timothy W. Oakes, Judge The Honorable Therese Hannah, Commissioner Trial Court Cause No. 49D02-1306-MI-16812

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Laura M. Nirenberg E. Anne Benaroya Trevor DeSane Center for Wildlife Ethics LaPorte, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrea E. Rahman Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana


         [¶1] Melodie Liddle's dog, Copper, died in a concealed animal trap in Versailles State Park. Liddle sued several state officials seeking damages. She also asked the trial court to declare invalid state-issued emergency rules governing trapping in state parks.

         [¶2] The court awarded damages to Liddle for the loss of Copper, but she appeals the court's rulings on summary judgment limiting the calculation of damages and denying her request for declaratory judgment.[1]

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Versailles State Park (VSP) sits on 5, 988 acres in southeastern Indiana next to the city of Versailles. In the mid-2000s, the park received complaints from visitors about raccoons. Raccoon overpopulation may have been an issue throughout Indiana's state park system, as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources decided to facilitate trapping in its parks statewide. In November 2005, DNR issued an emergency rule that authorized park managers to permit individuals to trap raccoons during Indiana's official trapping season.

         [¶4] DNR reissued the emergency rule on an annual basis from 2007 through 2013, reauthorizing park managers to permit raccoon and other animal trapping. Prior to 2012, the rule did not include any guidance on how traps should be placed or whether notice should be given to park visitors.

         [¶5] Harry Bloom was a security officer at VSP and had extensive experience in trapping animals. Beginning in 2007, the park's manager authorized him to trap raccoons. Bloom installed his own traps during the December trapping season. He used lethal "bodygrip" style traps. Appellant's App. Vol. 2, p. 91.

         [¶6] Bloom decided where to place the traps, concealing some of them in open-ended wooden boxes he had built. The park manager did not keep track of where Bloom put the traps. Bloom did not post signs to warn parkgoers because he was concerned about theft, having had seven traps stolen in VSP over the years. Between 2007 and 2013 he trapped 35 to 50 raccoons during trapping season. Bloom harvested the pelts from the raccoons and apparently sold them. See id. at 92 ("I processed the hides (furs) from these animals to partially compensate my time, equipment, and expenses incurred.").

         [¶7] December 16, 2011, was an unseasonably warm day. Melodie Liddle drove to VSP with her two dogs to take a walk. One of the dogs, Copper, was a ten-year-old beagle mix. Liddle kept the dogs on leashes, and she walked on a paved road in the park. The dogs led Liddle off the road and down an embankment to a stream. At that point, Copper stuck her head in an open-ended wooden box and became caught in one of Bloom's traps. She cried out as the trap closed around her, drawing Liddle's attention. Liddle struggled for several minutes to free Copper while calling for help, but no one heard her. She could not pry open the trap, which had clamped down on Copper's neck. Copper died from suffocation.

         [¶8] Liddle called a friend, Gene Beach, who arrived at the scene and removed Copper's body from the trap. Liddle went to the park office and found park manager Paul Sipples, who returned to the trap site with her and picked up the trap. When Liddle complained about the unmarked trap, Sipples stated that if they had put out warning signs, someone would have stolen the traps.

         [¶9] Bloom removed the rest of the traps from the park that evening, and he has not used lethal traps at VSP since the incident. The versions of the emergency trapping rule that were issued in 2012 and 2013 banned the use of lethal body-gripping traps on dry land and required park staff to post notices warning visitors about trapping. Id. at 46-49.

         [¶10] Liddle filed suit in June 2013, naming DNR Commissioner Cameron Clark, park manager Paul Sipples, and Harry Bloom as defendants. We refer to the defendants collectively as DNR. Liddle alleged DNR was negligent. She further requested declaratory judgment, specifically asking the court to declare the emergency rules void as unauthorized by DNR's statutory authority. DNR moved to dismiss Liddle's claim for declaratory judgment. In a February 12, 2014 order, the court granted DNR's motion in part, concluding ...

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