Very few cases go directly to the Indiana Supreme Court (ISC) as a matter of right.1 Most cases wind up in the ISC as a matter of discretion. The way this occurs is a party to a Court of Appeals’ (COA) decision (Indiana’s intermediate appellate court) seeks transfer. The ISC must accept the case. When it does so, it vacates the COA’s decision. This blog explores what the ISC may do on transfer and highlights a new case the reflects a change in the way the ISC has operated in the past given the addition of new Justices in the last several years.
If the Supreme Court grants transfer, it normally requests the parties’ counsel to orally argue the merits of the case before its five Justices. However, it can merely decide the case and issue an opinion. In fact, because it is the Supreme Court, it can take any approach it wishes to a case it accepts on transfer as it deems appropriate. However, the ISC is steeped in tradition and ordinarily handles cases in routine ways.
That said, assuming there is an oral argument, the ISC may ultimately affirm the COA in whole or part, reverse the COA and affirm the trial court, or in cases where there are conflicting COA decisions, invalidate an entire line of caselaw. If the ISC reverses the COA, then it means the trial court’s decision may be reversed or affirmed depending on how the COA ruled. These are the customary ways the ISC handles and decides cases.
The recent case of Harris v. State2 illustrates a newer style the ISC has taken in deciding how to handle the laws before it based on different facts that may be presented in each case. In Harris, after granting transfer, the ISC heard oral arguments from the parties. Then, after the case, its’ Justices held a conference to discuss the points raised in oral argument. In this conference, the ISC determined that it should not have assumed jurisdiction over the appeal and reinstated the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision.3
Ultimately, to promote stability and uniformity in the law, the ISC signaled that in certain cases that appear to merit transfer, the better way to serve the needs of the litigants that come before it is to vacate its jurisdiction over a case correctly decided by the COA. This means that Hoosiers and those litigating in the Indiana legal system should know that the legal system has a series of checks and balance on the law at the highest levels. Only when a case has such unique facts and the law is not correctly being applied to them or is outdated, will the ISC decide a case on the merits. This blog was written by Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates who handles appeals from all final orders from Indiana trial courts. This blog is written for general educational purposes; it not legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.