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Brugh v. Sailors

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 2, 2019

Jim Brugh, Appellant-Plaintiff,
James L. Sailors, Cass County Commission, et al., Appellees-Defendants

          Appeal from the Cass Superior Court Cause No. 09D01-1410-PL-36 The Honorable James K. Muehlhausen, Judge

          Appellant pro se Jim Brugh Logansport, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellees Jeffrey D. Stanton Logansport, Indiana Yamir Gonzalez Velez Logansport, Indiana

          ALTICE, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] In 1922, Cass County dedicated a World War I memorial (Memorial Home) in Logansport. The Board of Trustees for Memorial Home stopped functioning around 2001 and the County took over maintenance, but Memorial Home fell into disrepair. In 2014, the Cass County Commissioners deeded Memorial Home to the City of Logansport without reference to the property's dedicated purpose. Jim Brugh, a concerned citizen, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the County and the City, challenging the transfer. Brugh's suit resulted in entry of an agreed judgment between the parties in February 2016 (the Agreed Judgment).

         [¶2] Brugh filed a petition for enforcement of the Agreed Judgment in May 2018, arguing that the City and County had yet to comply. Additionally, Brugh alleged that the County Council should be found in contempt due to its refusal to commit $62, 500 toward improvements for Memorial Home as part of a second grant application.

         [¶3] Following a hearing, the trial court denied Brugh's petition for enforcement and found that the County Council was not in contempt. On appeal, Brugh argues that the trial court failed to enforce the Agreed Judgment as written and abused its discretion by not finding the County Council in contempt.

         [¶4] We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         Facts & Procedural History

         [¶5] Over 1000 Cass County citizens served as soldiers or sailors in World War I. After the war, in 1919, the Indiana Legislature passed an act in Chapter 115 of the Acts of 1919 (the Act) authorizing the several counties and cities within the state to finance, build, manage, and maintain memorials related to the war. Cass County citizens petitioned the County for such a memorial, and the Cass County Commissioners granted the petition in June 1920 and determined that $35, 000 should be expended for this public purpose. In July, the newly-appointed Board of Trustees for the memorial successfully petitioned the County to purchase the Baldwin homestead at 7th and Market Streets in Logansport for the memorial site. The County issued bonds, as allowed by the Act, to cover the purchase price. On May 14, 1922, the County officially dedicated Memorial Home as a war memorial. Memorial Home was maintained by the Board of Trustees and the County and utilized by the public for the next several decades.

         [¶6] By the early 2000s, the building on Memorial Home's grounds had fallen into disrepair and the Board of Trustees ceased to exist. The County took over maintenance of the building, and weddings and public events continued to be held on the grounds. In 2010, after receiving a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for a feasibility study, the County hired an architect and design firm to study the feasibility of expanding the use of Memorial Home as a community center. The resulting 2010 Master Plan made recommendations, provided options, and estimated the total project cost at about $1.5 million, which would escalate at 4% per year.

         [¶7] On June 16, 2014, the County Commissioners transferred Memorial Home, by quit claim deed, to the City of Logansport. The deed did not make reference to the property's dedicated purpose. In October of that year, Brugh filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the County and injunctive relief against the City. Brugh argued that the transfer was invalid and that the Board of Trustees should be reappointed to control Memorial Home. Further, Brugh asked the trial court to direct the County Commissioners to expend funds to maintain and repair Memorial Home "as required by the trustees, pursuant to the law." Appellant's Appendix Vol. 2 at 20. Finally, pending outcome of the case, Brugh requested that the City be enjoined from transferring title to Memorial Home or altering the structure in any way.

         [¶8] During a summary judgment hearing in November 2015, the parties asked to recess the matter to see if it could be resolved by agreement. Thereafter, on February 29, 2016, the parties' Agreed Judgment, which was drafted by Brugh, was accepted by the trial court. The Agreed Judgment began by setting out certain details of the Act and the history of the establishment of Memorial Home. Within the Agreed Judgment, the County and City expressly agreed that "Memorial Home is dedicated as a war memorial and shall be preserved for that purpose, pursuant to their contract." Id. at 67. To this end, the Agreed Judgment required the following of the County and City:

6. The City will execute a new deed which transfers Memorial Home to itself and to the Cass County Commissioners, jointly; that deed will refer to the dedication and preservation of Memorial Home as a war memorial, pursuant to I.C. 10-18-4-2(b)(3) and I.C. 10-18-4-12.
7. The City of Logansport and the Cass County Commissioners shall enter into a contract related to the establishment of the joint World War memorial, pursuant to I.C. 10-18-4-11(e), including, but not limited to, subsection (5) which mandates the provision:
"(5) that the necessary cost and expenses for the management, maintenance, repairs, and improvement of the World War memorial shall be paid by the county and city in the same proportion that they contribute to the establishment of the memorial."

Id. at 67-68.

         [¶9] Although the City did not execute a deed as required by the Agreed Judgment, the City and County proceeded as joint owners of Memorial Home thereafter. In 2016, a Board of Trustees (the Board) was appointed, with Mike Fincher serving as president from November 2016 through January 2018. Fincher worked closely with Deputy Mayor Mercedes Brugh regarding the maintenance and repair of Memorial Home. He walked through the building with the architect and reviewed the 2010 Master Plan and a privately-funded, updated version of the plan (the 2017 Plan Update). The 2017 Plan Update, at the request of Deputy Mayor Brugh, broke the project up into three phases - a stabilization phase, a rehabilitations phase, and an upgrades phase. The total cost of the project for all phases was estimated to be between $1.7 million and $2 million. There was also an environmental site assessment conducted for the County in 2016, which estimated environmental remediation of Memorial Home to cost around $70, 000.

         [¶10] After conferring with the Board and county and city officials, the City took the lead in preparing a CDBG grant application in 2017 in the amount of $633, 050, which would be used to fix the roof, stabilize the foundation, and complete "some ADA work". Transcript Vol. II at 76. The actual grant would be $500, 000, and the City and County would equally split the match amount of $125, 000 and the rest would be raised through private donations and the Community Foundation. By March 2017, both the City and County had committed to pay their respective match amounts of $62, 500 in a joint attempt to secure the CDBG grant.

         [¶11] While the CDBG grant application was pending, the City and County entered into a joint operating agreement in July 2017 (the Operating Agreement). The Operating Agreement referenced the prior litigation and the decree that the City and the County "work together for the mutual benefit of operating the building known as [Memorial Home], as a war memorial, a tribute to the men and women from Cass County who served their country." Appellant's Appendix Vol. 2 at 110. The Operating Agreement, which was rather detailed with eighteen separate articles, addressed the appointment of members to the ...

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