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Indiana Court of Appeals: Small Claims Parties Must Be Allowed To Present Evidence To Refute Claims
Posted in Litigation

In Elrod v. Brooks, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that Indiana Trial Rule 43(D) applied to small claims proceedings and that the small claims court abused its discretion by not allowing a plaintiff/counter-defendant to present evidence to rebut evidence presented by the counter-plaintiff on the counterclaim. 

The small claims court heard evidence by the plaintiff and then asked the plaintiff whether he wanted to present anything else.  Plaintiff responded that he did not.  The court then heard evidence from the defendant on the counterclaim.  When the court asked the plaintiff/counter-defendant if he wanted to respond, the plaintiff/counter-defendant said he had witnesses to refute the counterclaims.  The small claims court prevented the plaintiff/counter-defendant from presenting additional evidence because the plaintiff’s time to present evidence had passed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals acknowledged that while Small Claims Rule 8(A) indicates small claims courts are not bound by the Rules of Trial Procedure, Indiana case law has stated that the Rules of Trial Procedure will apply “unless the particular rule in question is inconsistent with something in the small claims rules.”  The Court found that Indiana Trial Rules 42(A) and 43(D) are not inconsistent with the Small Claims Rules. 

The Court of Appeals found that because a joint hearing was held on both the complaint and counterclaim, under Trial Rule 43(D), after the defendant/counter-plaintiff presented evidence on the counterclaim, the adverse party was to be afforded the opportunity to produce evidence in defense.  “Recognizing the great amount of discretion a small claims court has in the orderly conduct of the proceedings before it, we are nevertheless troubled by the court’s outright refusal to give [the plaintiff/counter-defendant] an opportunity to introduce evidence in an attempt to refute [the] counterclaim.”  It would be “dubious” for the plaintiff/counter-defendant “to have to defend against a claim before hearing the evidence in support of it.”

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