The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s dismissal of an Indiana automobile accident case in which the injured motorist was alleged not to have complied with the notice provisions of Indiana’s Claims Against Public Schools Act (“CAPSA”). In Smith v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., Benjamin Smith (“Smith”) was injured when his vehicle collided with a school bus owned and operated by the Franklin Township School Corporation (“the School”). A few months after the accident, Smith provided notice of his tort claim to the School in accordance with the Indiana Tort Claims Act (“ITCA”). A year and a half after the accident, Indiana’s legislature enacted CAPSA which provides notice requirements in all civil actions or administrative proceedings against public schools. After Smith filed a lawsuit against the School, and after the applicable statute of limitations had run, the trial court granted the School’s motion to dismiss Smith’s complaint without prejudice on the basis that he had failed to comply with CAPSA.
The ITCA governs tort claims against governmental entities or public employees. Under the ITCA, a claim against the state of Indiana is barred unless notice of the claim is filed with the attorney general or the state agency involved within two hundred seventy (270) days after the loss occurs. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-6. Claims against political subdivisions, for example cities or counties, must be filed with the governing body of the political subdivision and the Indiana political subdivision risk management commission within one hundred eighty (180) days after the loss. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-8. To comply with the notice provision of the ITCA, a claimant must describe “in a short and plain statement the facts on which the claim is based,” including the circumstances which brought about the loss, the extent of the loss, the time and place the loss occurred, the names of all persons involved if known, the amount of the damages sought, and the residence of the person making the claim at the time of the loss and at the time of filing the notice.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3-10.
CAPSA was enacted on July 1, 2018 and provides that claimants may not initiate a civil action or administrative proceeding against a public school “unless the individual or entity submits a written notice to the public school and the governing body… that notifies the public school and the governing body… of the alleged violation of law and indicates a proposed remedy.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3.5-4. The proposed remedy must provide “a specific request for relief” and “[a]llow the public school to offer [the claimant] the relief requested,” to which the public school must respond within fifteen (15) days after the notice is submitted, before the claimant can initiate a civil action or administrative proceeding. Ind. Code §§ 34-13-3.5-5, 34-13-3.5-6. If a claimant does not provide the required notice under CAPSA, the action “shall [be] dismiss[ed]… without prejudice.”
Smith argued on appeal that the trial court erred by not reinstating his dismissed complaint because CAPSA did not apply and because the notice he provided under the ITCA also satisfied the notice requirements of CAPSA. In determining the retroactive application of new laws, courts inquire as to legislative intent and presume laws do not have a retroactive application absent an express indication otherwise. Courts also look for strong and compelling reasons for retroactive application and inquire as to whether the new law attaches new legal consequences to events occurring before the law’s enactment. As to Smith’s compliance with the notice provisions of the ITCA, the Court of Appeals held that Smith’s compliance was conclusively established, as the School had waived any alleged deficiency by raising such for the first time on appeal. However, without deciding whether Smith’s compliance with the ITCA satisfied CAPSA, the Court concluded that applying CAPSA to Smith’s case would be “an impermissible retroactive application” of CAPSA. The Court concluded that CAPSA did not apply to Smith’s claim, and therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to find good cause to reinstate Smith’s dismissed lawsuit.
You can read the full Court of Appeals’ opinion here.