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Burton v. Benner

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 13, 2019

Bryce A. Burton, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Martin Benner and Indiana State Police, Appellees-Respondents

          Appeal from the Benton Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 04C01-1612-CT-176 The Honorable Hunter J. Reece, Special Judge

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Karl L. Mulvaney Margaret M. Christensen Nana Quay-Smith Bingham Greenbaum Doll LLP Indianapolis, Indiana R.T. Green Kellie C. Clark Collin W. Green Blackburn & Green Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Monika Prekopa Talbot Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Baker, Judge.

         [¶1] Bryce Burton appeals the trial court's order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Martin Benner, arguing that the trial court erred by finding as a matter of law that Benner was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of a vehicle accident. We agree. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         Facts

         [¶2] On June 4, 2015, Burton was operating a motorcycle traveling northbound on Meridian Road in Benton County. Benner, who is a trooper with the Indiana State Police, was traveling southbound on Meridian Road when he decided to pass the vehicle traveling in front of him. Benner moved into the northbound lane and observed Burton on the motorcycle traveling toward him. When the distance closed between Benner's vehicle and Burton's motorcycle, Benner abandoned his attempt to pass the vehicle in front of him and moved back into the southbound lane. In the meantime, however, Burton took evasive measures to avoid a head-on collision, resulting in the locking up of the motorcycle's brakes. Burton lost control and left the roadway, sustaining injuries as a result.

         [¶3] Benner was off-duty at the time of the accident. He was driving an unmarked Dodge Charger owned by the Indiana State Police on the way to his son's baseball game. The Indiana State Police authorizes its troopers to engage in de minimis use of police vehicles for personal matters but requires that they maintain radio contact to respond to emergency situations. Benner had worked earlier in the day, but when his shift was over he had gone home, taken a shower, changed into street clothes, and left home to go to the baseball game.

         [¶4] On December 12, 2016, Burton filed a complaint against Benner, seeking damages for the injuries he sustained as a result of the accident. In Benner's answer, he responded, among other things, that he was immune from liability because he had been operating the vehicle within the scope of his employment. On April 9, 2018, Benner filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in relevant part that as a matter of law, he was operating the vehicle within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Following briefing, on October 22, 2018, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor on Benner on this issue.[1] Burton now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶5] Our standard of review on summary judgment 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).

Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000, 1003 (Ind. 2014).

         [¶6] If it is found that Benner was working within the scope of his employment with the Indiana State Police, he is immune from personal liability for the accident. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-5(b)-(c). As a general matter, usually discussed in the context of the respondeat superior doctrine, "'it is well established that whether an employee's actions were within the scope of employment is a question of fact to be determined by the factfinder.'" Knighten v. E. Chi. ...


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