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ANDERSON – Local attorney Max Howard has decided not to seek transfer of a lawsuit filed against Madison County to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in September upheld a ruling denying Howard’s lawsuit over the closing of a minimum-security facility in 2016.

The ruling upheld the decision by Hamilton County Superior Court Judge Steve Nation in 2018.

Howard, through his company Happy Valley, filed the lawsuit against Madison County claiming the county commissioners violated the state’s Open Door Law and good faith in executing a four-year lease for the property from 2015 through 2018.

County attorney Jonathan Hughes said Wednesday that Happy Valley could ask the Indiana Supreme Court to accept the case or to request the Indiana Court of Appeals to revisit it.

“The ruling saves the county more than $250,000,” Hughes said in September. “There were two years left on the lease with a monthly payment of $18,400.”

The commissioners notified Howard that it was terminating the lease at the end of 2016 on two buildings being used for work release and a minimum-security facility.

That year the county purchased property on Jackson Street for a work release facility and later decided, following a feasibility study, to construct a minimum-security facility on the site.

The Madison County Council in 2016 removed $220,800 from the requested 2017 budget for Madison County Community Corrections for the lease payments to Happy Valley.

In the lawsuit filed in 2017, Happy Valley was seeking $294,400 in unpaid rent for the building at 940 Main St. from Jan. 1, 2017, to April 12, 2018; $16,939 in unpaid utility bills; $35,867 in mitigation expenses and $57,231 in legal fees.

Judge Nation found that Happy Valley failed to provide the required tort claim notice before filing the lawsuit.

“The evidence supports the proposition that Happy Valley, through Mr. Howard, had ample notification by which to provide a tort claim notice,” the ruling states.

Happy Valley maintained that the state’s Open Door Law was violated when the commissioners directed county attorney Jeff Graham to send a letter terminating the lease without conducting a public meeting.

The court ruled that the sending of the letter was an administrative action and didn’t require a meeting open to the public.

Nation also ruled the county commissioners acted in good faith when they entered into the four-year lease with Happy Valley.

The judge determined it was the Madison County Council that decided to construct a new minimum-security facility on Jackson Street and it was the council that eliminated the funding to pay for the lease starting in 2017.

The minimum-security facility was completed at the end of 2016 and the County Council voted to remove the funding for the lease with Happy Valley starting in 2017.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.

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