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Civil: Court of Appeals Addresses Statutory Construction Issues
Posted in Litigation

On Wednesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed issues of statutory construction in two cases.

In Fort Wayne Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association v. City of Fort Wayne, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that an off-duty police officer was not “performing her duty” as a police officer, pursuant to Indiana Code section 36-8-4-5, when she was injured in an accident involving her patrol car after her shift ended. 

The officer in the case was participating in Fort Wayne’s Home Fleet Vehicle Policy when she was injured.  Under the HFV Policy, officers are permitted to drive their City-owned police vehicles for personal use while off-duty.  If the officer was found to be “performing her duty” at the time of the injury, Indiana Code section 36-8-4-5 would have required the city to pay for her care.  The issue facing the Court was that the legislature had not defined what it meant by the key statutory phrase, “while performing the person’s duty.”

Applying tenets of statutory construction, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded, 2-1, that because there was no “causal connection . . . between the facts giving rise to [the officer’s] injuries and either the fact that she was a police officer or any duty enjoined upon her by her participation in the HFV program,” the officer was not injured while “performing her duty.”  Judge Bailey dissented from the holding, believing “that the majority has too narrowly construed the ‘performance of duties’ language of Indiana Code Section 36-8-4-5.”

In Kenwal Steel Corp. v. Seyring, the Court concluded that both a staffing service and the employer where a temporary employee had been placed for nine months were “joint employers” for purposes of the Worker’s Compensation Act.

When the plaintiff employee, Seyring, was injured on the job, he filed a worker’s compensation claim against the staffing company.  Separately, he filed a complaint against the employer, Kenwal Steel, alleging negligence.  Kenwal moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing it was a “joint employer” with the staffing service for purposes of the Act. 

Indiana Code Section 22-3-6-1(a) defines “employer” for purposes of the Act, and includes “[b]oth a lessor and a lessee of employees.”  Seyring argued that “temporary employee” and “leased employee” are mutually exclusive terms of art and that he was not a "leased employee" for purposes of the Act.  The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. 

In doing so, the Court gave deference to the Worker’s Compensation Board’s interchangeable use of the terms “leased” and “temporary” in its handbook, and rested on the belief that “Indiana Code Section 22-3-6-1(a)’s reference to the ‘lessor’ and ‘lessee’ of employees was not intended to be a term of art that excludes temporary employees as Seyring argues.”  As a result, the Court held, Seyring was limited to the exclusive remedy provision of the Worker’s Compensation Act, and his independent negligence suit against Kenwal should be dismissed.

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