Jasper granted partial summary judgment

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From local sources

Knox Circuit Judge Sherry B. Gregg Gilmore has granted the City of Jasper’s motion for partial summary judgment in the case of Healthy Dubois County et al vs. the city.

Judgment was entered in Jasper’s favor on any claims of Indiana Open Door Law violations in relation to six executive sessions held in 2010 and 2011. Judgment also was entered in the city’s favor on the plaintiff’s claim for attorney fees. The judgments were filed in Dubois Circuit Court today.

The decision essentially means that Healthy Dubois County cannot retry issues decided in the city’s favor at an earlier trial.

It remains to be determined at a trial rescheduled for April whether a committee of city officials and representatives involved in considering the power plant conversion violated the Open Door Law.

“The utility service board is gratified to receive Judge Gilmore’s decision granting partial summary judgment to the (utility service board) and the City of Jasper in the Healthy Dubois County’s complaint against us. We appreciate the judge’s diligence and thoroughness,” utility service board President Wayne Schuetter said.

“The judge agreed with the City of Jasper’s position that the city was not responsible for Healthy Dubois County’s attorneys’ fees for filing this lawsuit against the city and (utility board) for alleged violations of the Open Door Law.”

Healthy Dubois County et al filed a lawsuit Aug. 4, 2011, stating that six executive sessions held by the Jasper Common Council and Jasper Utility Service Board violated the Indiana Open Door Law. The lawsuit was filed the day before the two boards agreed to lease the city’s power plant to Twisted Oak Corp. of Atlanta on Aug. 5, 2011.

Twisted Oak’s plan is to operate the plant as the Jasper Clean Energy Center, a biomass plant that would burn natural gas and miscanthus grass.

The lawsuit was heard by Perry Circuit Judge Lucy Goffinet on Dec. 19 and 20, 2011. During the trial, Healthy Dubois County made motions to have more time to conduct discovery to determine if the Open Door Law was violated by the city using a volunteer group of common council, utility service board and city officials to negotiate details of the lease with Twisted Oak.

Healthy Dubois County and its members also requested an amendment to their complaint to add that the volunteer group did violate the law and they requested that the trial be continued. All of their requests were denied by Goffinet, who ruled in the city’s favor Jan. 3, 2012.

Healthy Dubois County filed an appeal June 7, 2012. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in the activist group’s favor on Nov. 19, 2012, and ordered a new trial. That trial was scheduled for January in Dubois Circuit Court with Gregg Gilmore presiding as a special judge. It has been rescheduled for April 15 and 16.

This past July, the city requested a summary judgment in the city’s favor on any claims that the six executive sessions violated the Open Door Law and on Healthy Dubois County’s claims for payment of its attorney fees as stipulated in the law.

During a hearing in October, the city boards’ attorney, Greg Neibarger of Indianapolis-based Bingham Greenebaum Doll, said that the Indiana Court of Appeals did not dismiss the Perry Circuit Court’s ruling on the executive sessions, so that part should not be retried.

Both sides debated Healthy Dubois County’s claim that the city pay the legal fees that the group and its participants have incurred. Neibarger said the Open Door Law specifies situations in which a plaintiff could recoup fees, and, he said, this case does not meet the stipulations. Healthy Dubois County’s attorney, Too Keller of Carmel-based Keller Macaluso, said it does, because the lawsuit was filed the day before the boards’ final action of approving the lease.

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