Slip and Fall Injury: Defective Sidewalk - “Planning-Operational” Test and Repairs of a Sidewalk

City of Indianapolis v. Duffitt
929 N.E.2d 231 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010)

Facts of Case: The City of Indianapolis received a complaint about the condition of a sidewalk in August of 2006, and within one or two days, the City inspected the sidewalk, determined it was a tripping hazard, and issued a work order for its repair with a “Priority 1” rating.  The City’s priority rating system used a scale of 1 to 3 to distinguish between “severely defected” sidewalks (Priority 1) and “slightly damages” sidewalks (Priority 3).  As of October of 2007, the sidewalk had not been repaired, and Duffitt tripped and fell on the sidewalk sustaining personal injuries.  She filed a complaint against the City alleging negligence in failing to repair the sidewalk, and the City filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that it was entitled to immunity under the “discretionary function” provision of the Indiana Tort Claims Act.  Included within the designated evidence in support of the City’s motion was an affidavit from the Operations Manager of the City’s Department of Public Works which included numerous paragraphs as to the rating system, policy decisions of the Manager, and the number of Priority 1 projects.  The trial court denied the City’s motion and then certified the Order denying summary judgment for interlocutory appeal.

Issue: Should summary judgment have been granted for the City based on the provision of the ITCA allowing immunity for the performance of a discretionary function?

Holding: Yes.  The Court first noted that the Indiana Supreme Court has adopted the “planning-operational test” for determining whether a function is discretionary for purposes of the ITCA.  Under this test, if the decision of the governmental entity was a “planning” activity, that is a function involving the formulation of basic policy characterized by official judgment, discretion, weighing of alternatives, and public policy choices, the decision is discretionary and thus immune under the ITCA.  Decisions about policy formation which involve assessment of competing priorities, a weighing of budgetary considerations, or the allocation of resources are also considered planning activities.  On the other hand, if the function is “operational”, for instance, involves decisions regarding only the execution or implementation of already formulated policy, the function is not considered discretionary and thus no immunity would be afforded under the Act.

The Court thus looked at the policy of the City with regard to the repairs of sidewalks in the City, and the designated evidence to the trial court showed that there were limited funds for sidewalk repair and thus the City implemented a policy which prioritized sidewalk repair and renovation. Thus, the Court found that given the budgetary considerations and cost-benefit analyses which led to the City’s policies, the City’s decisions were considered discretionary under this test and thus entitled to immunity under the ITCA.

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