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Date: 01-28-2019

Case Style:

Robert E. Dunham v. State of Indiana

Case Number: 18A-IF-1442

Judge: Randall T. Shepard


Plaintiff's Attorney: Tyler G. Banks
Deputy Attorney General

Defendant's Attorney: Jon A. Keyes


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The facts are not in dispute. Robert Dunham worked for Drainage
Construction Unlimited, Inc. (DCU), a company specializing in farm drainage
work. The Henry County Drainage Board hired DCU to install drain tiles at a
farm near the intersection of Interstate 70 and Indiana Highway 3.
[4] On February 26, 2018, Dunham installed drain tiles on the farm using an
excavator. When he was finished, Dunham put the excavator on a trailer and
towed the trailer away from the farm by truck.
[5] On the way back to DCU’s office, Dunham was pulled over by Indiana State
Trooper Todd Wallace. Dunham told Wallace he had been doing excavation
work for the county. Wallace asked Indiana State Trooper Brandon Steffey to
weigh the truck, trailer, and excavator. This was accomplished, and Steffey

1 Ind. Code § 9-20-18-12 (2016).
Court of Appeals of Indiana | Opinion 18A-IF-1442 | January 24, 2019 Page 3 of 6

determined the truck, trailer, and excavator collectively weighed 85,300
pounds, in violation of the statutory limit of 80,000 pounds.
[6] Steffey issued a citation to Dunham for exceeding the weight limit. Appellant’s
App. Vol. 2, p. 6. Dunham contested the ticket, and the trial court held a bench
trial on May 11, 2018. The court determined Dunham was guilty of a Class C
infraction and imposed a fine of $35.50, plus $135.50 in court costs.
Discussion and Decision
[7] Dunham argues the trial court erred in determining he had violated the weight
limit for heavy equipment on state highways. The parties agree this appeal
presents a question of law, which we review de novo with no deference to the
trial court’s decision. Seel v. State, 739 N.E.2d 170 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000).
[8] Indiana Code section 9-20-4-1 (2016) states a person may not operate a vehicle
or combination of vehicles upon a highway if the “overall gross weight” of the
vehicle or vehicles exceeds “eighty thousand (80,000) pounds.” A person may
not operate “or move upon a highway” a vehicle or combination of vehicles
exceeding the weight limit. Ind. Code § 9-20-1-1 (2016). Violation of the
weight limit is a Class C infraction. Ind. Code § 9-20-18-12. Dunham does not
deny that DCU’s truck, trailer, and excavator were subject to these statutes, and
he concedes that the truck, trailer, and excavator collectively exceeded the
statutory weight limit.
Court of Appeals of Indiana | Opinion 18A-IF-1442 | January 24, 2019 Page 4 of 6

[9] Dunham instead claims the equipment was subject to a statutory exception to
the weight limit. The limit set forth in Indiana Code section 9-20-4-1 does not
apply to the following:
(1) Machinery or equipment used in highway construction or maintenance by the Indiana department of transportation, counties, or municipalities.
(2) Implements of agriculture when used during farming operations or when constructed so that the implements can be moved without material damage to the highways.
(3) Farm drainage machinery.
Ind. Code § 9-20-2-2(b) (2007).
[10] This appeal thus hinges on the term “farm drainage machinery,” which is not
defined in Title 9, Article 20. Dunham argues in part that the term is
ambiguous, and the truck, trailer, and excavator are covered by the exception.
The State responds that the exception does not apply because Dunham was not
using the equipment for farm drainage work at the precise moment when the
state trooper stopped him.
[11] The parties have not directed us to any cases interpreting section 9-20-2-2, but
we may rely on well-established principles of statutory construction. If the
language of a statute is unambiguous, we simply give the language its plain,
ordinary, and usual meanings. Dobeski v. State, 64 N.E.3d 1257 (Ind. Ct. App.
2016). A statute is ambiguous when it allows more than one reasonable
Court of Appeals of Indiana | Opinion 18A-IF-1442 | January 24, 2019 Page 5 of 6

interpretation. Day v. State, 57 N.E.3d 809 (Ind. 2016). If a statute is
ambiguous, we resort to the rules of statutory construction to fulfill the
legislature’s intent. Id. Penal statutes are to be strictly construed against the
State and ambiguities are to be resolved in favor of the accused. State v. Turner,
567 N.E.2d 783 (Ind. 1991). A monetary judgment entered upon a finding of a
violation of an infraction is the functional equivalent of a penal fine. Horne v.
State, 572 N.E.2d 1333 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991), trans. denied.
[12] The “farm drainage machinery” exception is not limited by its plain language to
machinery that is actively being used to do drainage work. By contrast, the
General Assembly set forth specific limitations on the other two exceptions
listed in section 9-20-2-2(b). Machinery or equipment used in highway
construction or maintenance is exempt only if owned by government entities.
Implements of agriculture are exempt only if they are used during farming
operations or when they are constructed so that the implements can be moved
without material damage to the highways. Generally, when the legislature uses
particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section, we
presume that it is intentional. In re J.B., 61 N.E.3d 308 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016), on
[13] The farm drainage machinery exception may be reasonably read to apply to
Dunham’s equipment. We conclude Indiana Code section 9-20-2-2(b)(3) is
ambiguous as applied to the facts of this case. Under the rule of lenity, the
ambiguity is construed against the State, and Dunham was entitled to prevail.
See Turner, 567 N.E.2d at 784 (reversing truck driver’s conviction for carrying a
Court of Appeals of Indiana | Opinion 18A-IF-1442 | January 24, 2019 Page 6 of 6

handgun without a license; the term “express company” as set forth in an
exception to the licensing requirement was ambiguous and construed against
[14] The State claims that under Dunham’s interpretation, the farm drainage
equipment exception could apply to any equipment being hauled on state
highways that could conceivably be used in farm drainage work, thereby
frustrating Indiana Code section 9-20-4-1’s purpose of preventing wear and tear
to roads. We share the State’s concern, and our holding is limited to the facts
before us: the equipment in question had just been used to perform farm
drainage work, and Dunham was transporting it directly to the office after
finishing the work. We express no opinion as to how the ambiguity in the
statutory exception would apply to different facts, except to note that the
burden of proof and persuasion generally falls on the litigant claiming the
benefit of an exemption.

Outcome: We reverse the judgment of the trial court.


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