City of Beech Grove v. Beloat, 50 N.E.3d 135 (Ind. 2016)
January 20th, 2017
Limitations to the Application of ITCA’s Discretionary Function Immunity Provision
In City of Beech Grove v. Beloat, the Indiana Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and held that the City did not meet the standards of the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA). Therefore, it was not entitled to immunity.
In this case, Cathy Beloat was walking to the local Beech Grove library when she stepped in a hole and broke her leg. Beloat sued the city for her injuries and damages, and the City filed a motion for summary judgment claiming ITCA’s discretionary function immunity applied. The trial court denied the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment. However, the Court of Appeal reversed, and the case came in front of the Indiana Supreme Court.
Pursuant to ITCA, a city may be immune from suit if it shows that “the governmental entity considered improvements of the general type alleged in the plaintiff's complaint.” This means that the City of Beech Grove could claim immunity if it did not fix the pot hole at issue because it had determined that the costs and benefits of implementing a large project as compared to individual repairs being made.
Here, Beech Grove submitted the mayor’s affidavit which said that the city had plans to update the street on which Beloat fell. Because the mayor had not been delegated with individual authority to weigh the cost and benefits of road repairs and make an independent policy decision regarding whether certain repairs were made, the affidavit was not compelling to the Supreme Court.
Additionally, the City submitted city council and board of works meeting minutes to support its claim of discretionary function immunity. The minutes indicated that the boards’ members were pondering a street renovation. Again, however, the City failed to include a cost analysis or other evidence showing that costs and benefits of repair had been weighed. Because this case was on hearing for summary judgment, the Court had to make all inferences in favor of Beloat, the non-moving party. Therefore, the Indiana Supreme Court held that Beech Grove could not claim immunity under ITCA.
While the Court noted that this case was not a departure from previous immunity cases that use the “planning/operational test,” in this case, the Supreme Court took a narrower and more focused approach to the immunity provision’s application.