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Alicea v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 3, 2019

Ismael Alicea, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Ronald Brown, Appellee-Defendant.

          Appeal from the Porter Superior Court The Honorable Roger V. Bradford, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 64D01-1706-CT-5809

          Attorney for Appellant Mark J. Schocke Highland, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Crystal G. Rowe Alyssa C.B. Cochran Kightlinger & Gray, LLP New Albany, Indiana Galen A. Bradley Merrillville, Indiana

          NAJAM, JUDGE.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Ismael Alicea appeals the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Ronald Brown on Alicea's claim for punitive damages. Alicea presents a single issue for our review, namely, whether the trial court erred when it granted Brown's partial summary judgment motion. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On October 10, 2016, between approximately 3:15 and 3:30 p.m., while he was driving his truck from Hobart to Valparaiso, Brown drank two-and-one-half twelve-ounce beers. At approximately 3:30 p.m., Brown rear-ended a vehicle being driven by Alicea. Brown immediately fled the scene without talking to Alicea. Brown "didn't want to get caught drinking beer" while driving. Appellee's App. Vol. II at 13.

         [¶3] Later that day, a Porter County Sheriff's deputy arrived at Brown's property, saw the damaged truck, and asked Brown whether he had driven it earlier that day. Brown lied to the deputy and said that he had not driven the truck that day and that he did not know who had driven it. Brown suggested that someone could have stolen the truck. The deputy administered a portable breath test on Brown, which showed that Brown's BAC was ".02 or .03." Id. at 15. The deputy attempted to administer a few field sobriety tests, but Brown told him that he could not do them because of a "bad knee." Id. The deputy impounded Brown's truck. Brown later recovered his truck from impound, but he never told law enforcement that he was the driver who had collided with Alicea's vehicle on October 10 because he "didn't want to get arrested." Id.

         [¶4] On June 15, 2017, Alicea filed a complaint against Brown alleging negligence and seeking damages.[1] After Brown testified during a deposition that he had been drinking and driving at the time of the collision, Alicea subsequently filed an amended complaint to seek punitive damages. Brown moved for partial summary judgment only on the punitive damages claim. The trial court granted that motion following a hearing. This appeal ensued.[2]

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶5] Our standard of review for summary judgment appeals is well established:

We review summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court: "Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of . . . the non-moving parties, summary judgment is appropriate 'if the designated evidentiary matter shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 761 (Ind. 2009) (quoting T.R. 56(C)). "A fact is 'material' if its resolution would affect the outcome of the case, and an issue is 'genuine' if a trier of fact is required to resolve the parties' differing accounts of the truth, or if the undisputed material facts support conflicting reasonable inferences." Id. (internal citations omitted).

The initial burden is on the summary-judgment movant to "demonstrate[] the absence of any genuine issue of fact as to a determinative issue," at which point the burden shifts to the non-movant to "come forward with contrary evidence" showing an issue for the trier of fact. Id. at 761-62 (internal quotation marks and substitution omitted). And "[a]lthough the non-moving party has the burden on appeal of persuading us that the grant of summary ...


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