December 13, 2017

But Are The Rules For Initiating An Appeal Mere Guidelines?; Centier Bank v. Hurst

Category: Indiana Law Review | Author: | Share:

Another recent case from the Court of Appeals highlights the uncertainty regarding the ways in which appellate courts may obtain jurisdiction.

Nathaniel Hurst was a minor when his mother died, leaving him as her sole heir. The Bank was appointed as the personal representative of the mother’s estate. The Bank eventually moved to close the estate, and sought to disburse most pf the assets to itself, with about 10% going to Hurst (and his guardians). As there was no objection, the estate was closed.

Five years later, Hurst turned eighteen. During the final accounting of his guardianship, Hurst came to believe that the Bank had acted improperly, and sued the Bank, alleging fraud. The Bank moved for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, but the trial court denied that motion and explicitly stated that it was not a final appealable order. The trial court did not change its mind after the Bank moved to reconsider. The Bank then appealed.

On appeal, the Court first considered the timeliness of the Bank’s appeal. It noted that the trial court’s order was not a final order (as it denied a motion for summary judgment), and that it was not an interlocutory order that was appealable as a matter of right. And it noted that the Bank never requested to have the trial court’s order certified for interlocutory appeal. Thus, it concluded that the Bank’s appeal was untimely because it was too soon. At the same time, it noted that the Bank’s appeal was too late, as a motion for reconsideration does not toll the deadline for filing a notice of appeal.

Nevertheless, the Court noted the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent decision in D.J., and interpreted it to say that an appellate court always had the discretion to hear an appeal despite these procedural difficulties.

Every order, then, is in a sense appealable. Although Appellate Rule 14 and In re D.J. appear to be at odds, both are products of our supreme court, and we must assume the court was aware of the implications its decision in D.J. would have on Rule 14. Viewing the Appellate Rules through the lens of D.J. and O.R., the procedural rules are not immutable; they are guidelines. The Rules impose a framework for how orders are to be appealed—by granting absolute rights with respect to some orders and discretionary rights with respect to others. But in either case, the rights can be forfeited, and they can be revived in our discretion.

As Hurst did not raise the timelines of the appeal, the Court found that the issue at hand, the denial of a motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, was “a classic discretionary interlocutory appeal issue,” and chose to exercise its discretion to decide the issue on the merits.

Whether we dismiss this case due to a procedural default or decide the issue as we have herein, the case will go on. The benefit of deciding the case now is that the statute of limitations question will not cloud the balance of the litigation and risk wasting the resources of the parties and the trial court.

The Court ultimately went on to affirm the denial of the Bank’s motion for summary judgment. As Hurst’s claims sounded in fraud, the six-year statute of limitations for fraud applied. And when moving for summary judgment under that statute, the Bank did not meet its burden.

Assuming Indiana Code section 34-11-2-7 applies to Nathaniel’s claims, the Bank does not set forth any argument or cite any facts from the record demonstrating on what date Nathaniel knew or could have discovered the alleged fraud; rather, it merely assumes any cause of action for fraud began running in April 2009 when Mother’s estate was closed. This issue, left unaddressed by the Bank, is crucial to determining whether Nathaniel’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations found in Indiana Code section 34-11-2-7, and contrary to the Bank, Nathaniel has designated facts alleging the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the Hursts filed a final accounting of his assets in July 2014, when he first learned of his diminished inheritance. Thus, to the extent the Bank argues Indiana Code section 34-11-2-7 bars Nathaniel’s claims, the Bank has failed to meet its burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact as to when the six-year statute of limitations began to run.

As a final note, Hurst apparently moved for appellate attorney’s fees. But that request was denied “for failure to present a cogent argument.”

Lesson:

  1. The deadlines for filing a notice of appeal are “guidelines” that an appellate court may disregard under the proper circumstances.
  2. In order to obtain summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, a defendant must show the date that the plaintiff know or could have discovered the alleged claim.