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Nicholson v. Lee

Court of Appeals of Indiana

February 14, 2019

Shelley Nicholson, as the Mother of Matthew Kendall, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Christopher S. Lee, Appellee-Defendant

          Court of Appeals Case No. 18A-CT-1949 Appeal from the Dubois Circuit Court The Honorable Nathan A. Verkamp, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 19C01-1805-CT-306

          Attorneys for Appellant Laurie E. Martin Kristofer S. Wilson Hoover Hull Turner LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Greg J. Freyberger Wooden McLaughlin LLP Evansville, Indiana Elizabeth S. Schmitt Wooden McLaughlin LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          Baker, Judge.

         [¶1] Christopher Lee left a handgun in plain sight in his unlocked, unattended truck, which was parked in a public area. A minor, C.O., saw the gun, took it, and showed it to his friend, Matthew Kendall, resulting in the discharge of the weapon and the death of Kendall. Kendall's mother, Shelley Nicholson, sued Lee for negligence. The trial court granted Lee's motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding as a matter of law that Indiana Code section 34-30-20-1 immunizes him from liability under these circumstances. Nicholson appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by granting the motion for judgment on the pleadings. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts[1]

         [¶2] On July 22, 2016, Lee parked his truck outside in a public area. He left his loaded[2] Glock 9mm handgun on the seat of his truck, visible through the windows. After parking, Lee left his truck unlocked and unattended.

         [¶3] C.O., a minor, was walking along the public way, saw Lee's truck, and saw the handgun inside the truck. C.O. took the handgun from the truck and returned to his home with it. He then showed the handgun to Kendall. In the process, the handgun discharged, shooting and killing Kendall.

         [¶4] On May 17, 2018, Nicholson filed a complaint against Lee, alleging that Lee's storage of his handgun in open view inside an unlocked and unattended vehicle was negligent and a proximate cause of Kendall's death. In his answer, Lee admitted to owning the handgun and to storing it in an unlocked and unattended vehicle that was parked outside.

         [¶5] On July 11, 2018, Lee filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that regardless of how he stores his handgun, if the handgun is stolen, he is statutorily immune from liability for any resulting harm, including Kendall's death. On July 20, 2018, the trial court granted the motion before Nicholson had a chance to respond to it. She filed a motion for reconsideration, asking the trial court to consider her timely filed brief opposing judgment on the pleadings. The trial court denied the motion. Nicholson now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Nicholson argues that the trial court erred by granting Lee's motion for judgment on the pleadings. A motion for judgment on the pleadings tests the sufficiency of a claim presented in the pleadings and should be granted only where it is clear from the face of the complaint that under no circumstances could relief be granted. KS&E Sports v. Runnels, 72 N.E.3d 892, 898 (Ind. 2017); see also Ind. Trial Rule 12(C). We apply a de novo standard of review to a trial court's ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings. KS&E Sports, 72 N.E.3d at 898.

         [¶7] We likewise apply a de novo standard of review to issues of statutory interpretation. Id. If a statute is clear and unambiguous, we put aside canons of statutory construction and take words and phrases in their plain, ordinary, and usual sense. Id. at 898-99. We will find a statute ambiguous and open to judicial construction only if it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. Id. at 899.

         [¶8] The statute at issue in this case is Indiana Code section ...


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