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Indiana Supreme Court reverses Aqua Indiana rulings

INDIANAPOLIS – Aqua Indiana won its bid for a jury to decide how much Fort Wayne should pay for its 2002 takeover of the utility's northern system.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the utility is entitled to a full rehearing of the matter, and that includes a request to trial by jury. It reversed the local court and Indiana Court of Appeals.

The city had argued Aqua Indiana was allowed only a limited review by a judge on the price and can't offer new evidence to counter city appraisals while Aqua Indiana said the review should include a full evidentiary hearing before a jury.

This is the second time the state's highest court has stepped into the decade-old debate.

In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the city's takeover of Aqua Indiana north. While that settled the legal dispute over the city's authority to declare eminent domain and take over the utility, the price the city must pay is still in dispute.

The city, through its Board of Public Works, said the company should get about $17 million.

The appellate court had ruled no jury trial was allowed, and the judge was limited to reviewing evidence already provided to the Board of Public Works.

The reason the utility is pushing for a full review is that Aqua Indiana didn't submit its own appraisal at the time to the board. It merely filed a written brief alleging what was wrong with the city's estimate of worth.

Aqua Indiana attorneys argued the statute specifically allows for a de novo review – a Latin term meaning "from the beginning" or "beginning again" – and that it means just that, the process gets to start over.

The conclusion of the case is considered vital before the city considers any effort to acquire Aqua Indiana's southwest utility.

For more on this story, see Friday's print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit after 3 a.m. Friday.