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Indiana Supreme Court Affirms Claims Against Public Schools Act Dismissal Due to Personal Injury Claimant Failing to Timely and Appropriately Challenge Dismissal

We previously wrote on the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision in Smith v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp. in which the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s dismissal of a personal injury lawsuit concerning a motor vehicle accident finding the pre-suit notice requirements of Indiana’s Claims Against Public Schools Act (“CAPSA”), which was enacted a year and a half after the subject accident, could not be retroactively applied. Recently, on a petition to transfer, the Indiana Supreme Court weighed in and affirmed the trial court’s dismissal on procedural grounds.

The personal injury lawsuit arose when Benjamin Smith (“Smith”) was injured when his vehicle collided with a school bus owned and operated by the Franklin Township School Corporation (“the School”). After Smith filed a lawsuit, the School filed a motion to dismiss arguing that Smith failed to comply with the notice provisions of the newly enacted CAPSA. Smith did not file a response to the motion to dismiss, and when the trial court dismissed Smith’s complaint without prejudice, he did not appeal. Instead, after two months had passed, Smith filed a series of filings requesting reinstatement of his complaint pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 41(F), which the trial court denied.

The Indiana Supreme Court did not review whether Smith’s tort claim notice pursuant to the Indiana Tort Claims Act satisfied the notice requirements of CAPSA, or whether CAPSA could be retroactively applied given it was enacted after the subject accident. Instead, the Court focused on whether Smith followed the proper procedure in challenging the trial court’s dismissal.

Under Indiana Trial Rule 41(F), “[f]or good cause shown and within a reasonable time [a trial court] may set aside a dismissal without prejudice.” Ind. R. Trial P. 41(F). Smith argued he met Indiana Trial Rule 41(F)’s requirements and was entitled to reinstatement because the trial court incorrectly interpreted the law in dismissing his complaint. In response, the School argued Smith failed to properly raise his substantive arguments in a timely and procedurally appropriate manner. The Indiana Supreme Court agreed with the School, noting that reinstatement pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 41(F) is extraordinary relief, and a motion for reinstatement is not a substitute for a direct appeal of a dismissal and is not intended to address the legal basis of a judgment.

Smith did not file a response to the School’s motion to dismiss. Smith did not file an appeal of the trial court’s dismissal, which was a final appealable order. After two months had passed since the dismissal, Smith attempted to have his case reinstated pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 41(F) by disputing the legal basis of the trial court’s dismissal, which he argued established “good cause” under Indiana Trial Rule 41(F). However, the Indiana Supreme Court noted that Smith’s claims of error were known or knowable at the time of dismissal but were not raised by him. The Indiana Supreme Court held Smith’s request for reinstatement was not made “within a reasonable time” and for “good cause,” but was instead an impermissible collateral attack on the dismissal order. The Indiana Supreme Court, therefore, affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Smith’s lawsuit.

You can read the full opinion here.

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