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Smith v. Franklin Township Community School Corp.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 6, 2019

Benjamin S. Smith, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Franklin Township Community School Corp., Appellee-Defendant.

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Hon. James A. Joven, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 49D13-1810-CT-42794

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT James R. Fisher Debra H. Miller Miller & Fisher, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Kevin S, Smith Alexander P. Pinegar Church, Church, Hittle & Antrim Noblesville, Indiana

          BRADFORD, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] In January of 2016, Benjamin Smith's vehicle collided with a school bus owned and operated by the Franklin Township School Corporation ("the School") in Indianapolis, causing him injury. In March of 2016, pursuant to the Indiana Tort Claims Act ("ITCA"), Smith sent notice to the School of his intent to file a tort claim ("the ITCA Notice"). On July 1, 2018, the Claims Against Public Schools Act ("CAPSA") became law, governing all civil actions or administrative proceedings brought against public schools and which includes its own notice provisions.

         [¶2] In October of 2018, Smith filed a negligence suit against the School, which moved to dismiss Smith's complaint on the basis that he had failed to provide CAPSA notice prior to filing. On January 29, 2019, the trial court dismissed Smith's complaint without prejudice. By this time, however, the relevant statute of limitations had run, preventing him from simply refiling. On March 29, 2019, Smith moved for his complaint to be reinstated pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 41(F). On May 9, 2019, the trial court denied Smith's motion to reinstate. As restated, Smith contends that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to reinstate because (1) CAPSA does not apply to his claim and (2) the ITCA Notice also satisfied the notice requirements of CAPSA in any event. Because we conclude that CAPSA does not apply to Smith's claim against the School, we need not reach his second claim and reverse and remand with instructions.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] On January 7, 2016, Smith was involved in a collision between his vehicle and a school bus owned and operated by the School, suffering injuries. Smith sent the School an ITCA Notice on March 15, 2016, via certified mail. On July 1, 2018, CAPSA became law, governing all civil actions or administrative proceedings "brought against a public school under the laws of […] the United States [] or […] Indiana." Ind. Code § 34-13-3.5-1; see generally Ind. Code ch. 34-13-3.5. CAPSA requires, inter alia, that a potential plaintiff give notice of a civil lawsuit to a public school before it can be initiated, which notice must include a request for relief and an opportunity for the school to respond. On October 24, 2018, nine days prior to the running of the relevant statute of limitations, Smith filed a negligence complaint against the School, prior to which he did not provide the School with a separate CAPSA notice.

         [¶4] On December 26, 2018, the School moved to dismiss Smith's complaint on the basis that he had failed to provide CAPSA notice prior to filing his complaint. On or about January 14, 2019, Smith sent a letter to the School demanding $500, 000.00 to settle his claim and asking for a response within fifteen days. On January 29, 2019, the trial court dismissed Smith's complaint without prejudice. By this time, however, the relevant statute of limitations had run.

         [¶5] On March 29, 2019, Smith moved for his complaint to be reinstated pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 41(F). Smith alleged, inter alia, that "[p]ursuant to Trial Rule 41, good cause exist[ed] to reinstate this matter and for all other relief just and proper in the premises[.]" Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 18. On April 15, 2019, the School responded, alleging that Smith had failed to establish good cause to reinstate his complaint because he had not established compliance with CAPSA's notice requirement. The same day, Smith filed a second motion to reinstate his complaint. On May 8, 2019, Smith filed a memorandum in support of his second motion to reinstate, arguing that (1) the notice requirements of ITCA are the only ones that apply to this case, (2) the ITCA Notice satisfied those requirements and (3) dismissal for failure to comply with the recently-enacted CAPSA's notice requirements would be "harsh and […] against the interest of justice." Appellant's App. p. 44. Smith noted that CAPSA "did not even exist at the time notice was given, and only came to be mere months prior to the suit being filed." Appellant's App. p. 44. On May 9, 2019, the trial court denied Smith's motion to reinstate.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Smith is appealing from the trial court's denial of his motion to reinstate his negligence suit against the School. Indiana Trial Rule 41(F) provides that "[f]or good cause shown and within a reasonable time the court may set aside a dismissal without prejudice." We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to reinstate an involuntary dismissal for an abuse of discretion. Cloyd v. Pasternak, 791 N.E.2d 757, 758 (Ind.Ct.App. 2003). "Judicial discretion has been defined as a judge's privilege to decide and act in accordance with what is fair and equitable within the confines of justice." Id. at 759. "Our review of an exercise of judicial discretion must be made in light of and confined to the facts and circumstances of a particular case." Id. We will uphold the trial court's decision unless it "is clearly ...


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