Justia Animal / Dog Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana
This case before the Indiana Supreme Court involved the intersection of a successful Section 1983 federal action and Indiana’s public-employee indemnification statute. The plaintiff, Kailee Leonard, hit and killed a dog belonging to a state conservation officer, Scott Johnson. In response, Officer Johnson pursued misdemeanor charges against Leonard for leaving the scene of the accident. Leonard was subsequently charged but never arrested, and the charges were later dropped at Officer Johnson's request. Leonard then filed a federal lawsuit against Officer Johnson, claiming false arrest. The jury found in Leonard's favor, awarding her $10,000 in damages and $52,462 in attorney’s fees and costs. Unable to pay the full amount, Officer Johnson assigned his indemnification rights against the State to Leonard and her attorney. Leonard subsequently sued the State for a declaratory judgment that the State had a duty to indemnify Officer Johnson and pay the judgment. The trial court found in Leonard's favor, but the State appealed, arguing that Officer Johnson's actions constituted a criminal act.The Indiana Supreme Court held that Leonard had shown that Officer Johnson’s conduct was noncriminal, and the State did not rebut that showing. The Court clarified that a party seeking indemnification under the Indiana public-employee indemnification statute must initially show that the loss occurred because of a noncriminal act or omission. The burden then shifts to the State to rebut that showing by producing evidence establishing a prima facie case of criminal conduct. In this case, Leonard met her burden of producing evidence that Officer Johnson’s conduct was noncriminal, and the State failed to establish a prima facie case that he had committed the crime of false informing. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's decision ordering the State to indemnify Officer Johnson and pay the federal judgment. View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law