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Indiana Supreme Court: Week In Review (October 12-16, 2009)
Posted in Litigation

The Indiana Supreme Court issued three opinions this week.

In Williams v. Tharp, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment “which found privileged a restaurant employee’s statements to a passerby and a police officer that a customer had ‘pulled a gun’ inside the store.”  The targets of the employee’s statements did not, in fact, have a gun.  Nevertheless, when police located the plaintiffs, they were ordered out of their car at gunpoint, ordered to their knees, and detained in handcuffs for more than an hour.  The plaintiffs were released after police found no gun.

The plaintiffs sued on various theories arising from the employee’s false report to police.  The employee and his employer, Papa John’s, moved for summary judgment claiming a qualified privilege applied to the statements.  The trial court granted judgment against the plaintiffs’ on all counts.

In a 3-2 opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment by finding that the evidence designated by the plaintiffs did not overcome the qualified privilege that applies to such statements – i.e., the designated evidence did not create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the employee made the statement knowing it to be false.

In Myers v. Leedy, the Court held that a tenant’s leasehold interest in property survived a land contract vendee’s forfeiture “when the tenant is not made a party to the forfeiture action and the vendor has actual knowledge that the tenant is in possession of the property.”  To reach that conclusion, the Indiana Supreme Court first adopt the majority view that “where at the time a mortgagee files suit for foreclosure it knows, or upon reasonable diligence should have known, that a tenant is in possession of the property, the tenant’s leasehold survives the foreclosure action unless the tenant is made party to the action.”  The Court then concluded that the same principle should apply to forfeiture (in addition to foreclosure) actions.

Finally, in Clark v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court held that electronic evidence from a defendant’s entry on a MySpace page was admissible against him at trial.  In this case, the defendant was convicted of murdering a two-year-old left in his care.  Following the incident, Clark posted references to himself on MySpace as being “an outlaw and criminal” and that “if I can do it and get away . . . why . . . can’t you.”  Clark also posted: “It’s only a C Felony. I can beat this.”  The Court held that, because Clark took the stand and testified that he was guilty of only a reckless act, the MySpace postings were permissible rebuttal to that testimony.

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