Shelley Nicholson, as the Mother of Matthew Kendall, Appellant-Plaintiff,
Christopher S. Lee, Appellee-Defendant
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
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.
On July 22, 2016, Lee parked his truck outside in a public
area. He left his loaded Glock 9mm handgun on the seat of his
truck, visible through the windows. After parking, Lee left
his truck unlocked and unattended.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The statute at issue in this case is Indiana Code section