Judge orders railroad advocate, attorneys to pay Fishers $72,000

A judge has ordered Save the Nickel Plate and its attorneys to pay $72,000 to the city of Fishers in compensation for legal fees racked up by the city to defend itself against a “frivolous” lawsuit the organization filed against the city last year.

Hamilton Circuit Court Judge David Najjar found that attorneys spent more than 230 hours defending Fishers in the case, resulting in a $72,367.50 legal bill.

Save the Nickel Plate filed a lawsuit in September regarding public meetings about the proposed Nickel Plate Trail, which the not-for-profit group opposes. It instead wants to preserve the Nickel Plate Railroad line as a rail corridor in Hamilton and Marion counties.

Since Hamilton County leaders announced in February 2017 that they would convert the unused line into a recreational trail, Save the Nickel Plate and others have filed three lawsuits, multiple public access complaints, a hearing petition with the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance and appeals with the Federal Surface Transportation Board, which OKed the trail conversion.

In September, the organization took legal action against Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County, saying officials violated Indiana’s Open Door law and Indiana code regarding thoroughfare projects by not giving the public a chance to speak at two meetings regarding plans for the Nickel Plate Trail.

The organization argued that meeting notices for the two meetings—one in July 2017 and the other in September—were governed by Indiana code regarding thoroughfare projects that required the board to hold a public hearing when people interested in or affected by the project could speak. The board also was required to issue a notice advertising the hearing, Save the Nickel Plate said in its lawsuit.  

The organization asked a judge to rule that the boards violated the law and to void any decisions made during those meetings. It also asked to be awarded attorneys’ fees, court costs and other litigation expenses.

The city of Fishers asked Save the Nickel Plate to drop the lawsuit, but the organization continued to pursue a ruling.

Then in April, Najjar dismissed the case, calling it frivolous and meritless, and awarded Fishers attorney fees.

Save the Nickel Plate, represented by attorney Timothy Stoesz (who declined to comment on the latest order), and Brattain Minnix Garcia, represented by Patrick Devine and Ami Anderson, were ordered to pay the attorney fees in a hearing held last week.

Brattain Minnix Garcia had represented Save the Nickel Plate in its lawsuit against Fishers. The organization also filed claims against Hamilton County and the city of Noblesville but agreed to withdraw the case.  

According to the city, Brattain Minnix Garcia has agreed to pay the amount in full.

“The City of Fishers is glad to see the burden of these frivolous and baseless lawsuits will not be held by the taxpayers of Fishers but instead by the representatives of Save the Nickel Plate and their legal counsel," Ashley Elrod, public relations director for the city of Fishers, said in written comments. "This reaffirms the lack of legitimacy of the lawsuits and claims made by Save the Nickel Plate.”

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