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Indiana Supreme Court: Court Addresses FMLA Eligibility, UCC Applicability to Websites, Expungement Statute, Open Pleas
Posted in Litigation

On May 19, the Indiana Supreme Court handed down four opinions.

In Gary Community School Corporation v. Powell, the Court held that “an employee filling multiple positions with the same employer is eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act if that employee’s total service is sufficient to qualify, even if service in either position alone does not qualify.”

The issue in Powell arose when a teacher and coach at Lew Wallace High School in Gary developed a blood clot in his leg requiring hospitalization, then required another four weeks of leave after reinjuring his leg.  When Powell returned to his teaching duties, he learned that he had been fired as head football coach and as an assistant basketball coach.  Powell sued alleging violations of the FMLA.  In defense, the School Corporation argued that Powell was not eligible for FMLA coverage because he did not meet the length-of-service requirements in the Act.  Although Powell had served more than 1,250 hours in his capacity as math teacher, he did not reach that hours threshold as head football coach.  Siding with Powell, the Indiana Supreme Court held that FMLA’s definition of “eligible employee” is employer-specific, not job specific, “and the service requirements for an eligible employee are in terms of overall service, not service in any specific position.”

In Conwell v. Gray Loon Outdoor Marketing Group, Inc., the Indiana Supreme Court held that the Uniform Commercial Code did not apply to a suit between a business enterprise and the marketing firm that created and hosted its website.  The issue in Conwell arose when a partnership hired Gray Loon to design and publish its website.  The relationship later broke down over payment issues.  Addressing the parties’ claims, the Court had to determine whether U.C.C. Article 2 (transactions in goods) applied to the website creation and hosting agreement.  The Court concluded that the predominant thrust of the agreement here was for services:  “a custom design for a single customer and an ongoing hosting relationship.”

In State ex rel. Indiana State Police v. Arnold, the Court addressed Indiana’s expungement statute, Indiana Code section 35-38-5-1, and affirmed a trial court’s order expunging a 1993 arrest for which Arnold was never charged.  The Court first explained that the expungement statute “provides the exclusive means for expunging arrest records when either no criminal charges are ever filed against the arrestee or the charges are dropped.” 

At subsection f of the statute, the legislature set forth that qualifying petitions for expungement “shall be granted” unless the court makes certain findings.  One of those findings is that the conditions for expungement have not been met.  In that instance, the Court stated, the individual has no standing to petition the court and the court must deny the petition.  Ind. Code § 35-38-5-1(f)(1).

The other two factors in subsection f are that “the individual has a record of arrests other than minor traffic offenses,” Ind. Code § 35-38-5-1(f)(2), and additional criminal charges are pending against the petitioner, Ind. Code § 35-38-5-1(f)(3).  Because Arnold had a history of arrests “other than minor traffic offenses,” the State argued that the trial court had no discretion to expunge his 1993 arrest.  The Indiana Supreme Court noted a conflict between Court of Appeals panels regarding whether a trial court has discretion to order an expungement despite the presence of factors identified in subsections (f)(2) and (f)(3).

Resolving that conflict, the Court held that the mandatory language in the expungement statute – the “shall” – applied only to circumstances under which a trial court must expunge a record.  It did not, the Court explained, provide evidence of the legislature’s intent to deny trial courts the discretion to expunge a record even if one of the factors from subsections (f)(2) or (f)(3) is present.

To the contrary, the Court concluded that “the Legislature intended for the court to have the discretion to expunge such arrests when it enacted the Expungement Statute.”  Based on that conclusion, the Court held that “if, after conducting a hearing, the trial court finds that an individual has a record of arrests other than minor traffic offenses, the court has discretion to either grant or deny that individual’s petition for expungement.”

Finally, in Hayes v. State, the Court reinstated a conviction entered pursuant to an open plea agreement, but revised the defendant’s sentence downward from the enhanced sentence entered by the trial court.  The Indiana Court of Appeals had sua sponte vacated Hayes’ conviction for promoting prostitution, even though Hayes had agreed to the conviction in his plea agreement.  This, the Court explained, was contrary to its holding in Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394, 395 (Ind. 1996), that “a conviction based upon a guilty plea may not be challenged by motion to correct errors and direct appeal.”  Rather, under Tumulty, the proper avenue for challenging such a conviction is through a petition for post-conviction relief.

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