In its opinion dated December 26, 2019, the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) held: “Joann Sartain filed a four-count complaint against Trilogy Healthcare of Hamilton II, LLC d/b/a Prairie Lakes Health Campus (“Prairie Lakes”). Prairie Lakes moved to dismiss Counts I and III, which the trial court granted. The parties continued to litigate Counts II and IV but eventually filed a stipulation to dismiss the case “in its entirety.” Sartain now seeks to appeal the dismissal of Counts I and III. Prairie Lakes argues that the appeal must be dismissed. We agree. Because Sartain explicitly stipulated to the dismissal of the case in its entirety, there was no final judgment, and we lack jurisdiction. We therefore dismiss the appeal.”
In November 2015, Sartain, by and through her daughter and attorney-in-fact, Cindy Harding, filed a lawsuit against Prairie Lakes, a nursing facility in Noblesville. Sartain suffered from dementia and resided at Prairie Lakes from February 2012 until February 2014, when Prairie Lakes discharged her to a hospital. Sartain’s complaint made four claims: Count I, Negligence – Improper Discharge; Count II, Negligence – Substandard Care; Count III, Abuse of Process; and Count IV, Breach of Contract.
Prairie Lakes moved to dismiss Counts I and III, claiming that Sartain had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. The trial court granted that motion in May 2016. The trial court certified its order for interlocutory appeal, but the Indiana Appellate Court declined jurisdiction.
Litigation continued on Counts II and IV until June 2019, when the parties filed a Stipulation of Dismissal. The stipulation provided that the parties, “pursuant to Rule 41(A)(1)(b) of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, stipulate and agree to the dismissal of the above-referenced cause of action, in its entirety, each party to bear their own attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses.” The parties also submitted a proposed Order of Dismissal, which provided: “The Court, being duly advised in the premises and having reviewed the parties’ Stipulation of Dismissal, now ORDERS that the above-referenced cause of action is hereby dismissed, with each party bearing their own attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses. IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that Plaintiff’s cause of action against Defendant is hereby dismissed in its entirety.” The trial court signed the order.
Three weeks later, Sartain filed a notice of appeal with the Indiana Appellate Court, indicating that she is appealing the May 2016 order dismissing Counts I and III and that the “Basis for Appellate Jurisdiction” is “Appeal from a Final Judgment, as defined by Appellate Rule 2(H) and 9(I).” Prairie Lakes moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the trial court never issued a final judgment and that therefore the Indiana Appellate Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.
Indiana Appellate Court Opinion
The Indiana Appellate Court stated: “The parties filed a Stipulation of Dismissal pursuant to Trial Rule 41(A)(1)(b), which provides that “an action may be dismissed by the plaintiff without order of court . . . by filing a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared in the action.” (Emphasis added). The emphasized language—“without order of court”—means that this case was ended by the filing of the stipulation, not by the trial court’s subsequent Order of Dismissal, which was unnecessary and a nullity … a voluntary dismissal under Trial Rule 41(A)(1) is not a “judgment” because no judicial action is required to accomplish the dismissal.”
The Indiana Appellate Court further stated: “even if we agreed that the trial court’s June 2019 order constituted a final judgment, the language of the order and of the Stipulation of Dismissal that led to the order would require dismissal of this appeal. In the stipulation, the parties agreed that the case would be dismissed “in its entirety.” Likewise, the order provided that the case was dismissed “in its entirety.” Having agreed to the dismissal of her case “in its entirety”—not just Counts II and IV—Sartain cannot now be heard to argue that the trial court committed any sort of reversible error with regard to Counts I and III.”
Source Sartain v. Trilogy Healthcare of Hamilton II, LLC, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-PL-1567.
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