7th Circuit rules on attorney fee issues in brownfield case

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has mostly upheld an Indiana federal judge who’d ruled on the litigation costs and attorney fees involved in a Shell gas station brownfield case.

The 25-page opinion came today in Daniel J. and Pamela Wickens and Mark E. Shere v. Shell Oil Company, Nos. 09-2737 & 09-2620, which affirms and reverses in part a 2008 judgment from Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis. The case dates back more than five years and involves a couple who were trying to sell their shoe shop when they discovered contaminated soil from a former fuel station on the Anderson property. Though they reached a settlement on most of the issues, the parties disagreed on various issues that included how attorney fees were calculated.

In its ruling today, the 7th Circuit held that Judge Barker correctly used a cut-off date for when Mark Shere’s legal work could stop being used to calculate the litigation costs and disbursements. The appellate panel upheld a $37,443.25 award for litigation costs and disbursements and denied the attorney’s request for prejudgment interest before Jan. 9, 2007; as well as ordered Shell to pay the $116,511.27 in corrective action costs incurred in May and June 2007.

The 7th Circuit did reverse Judge Barker on an issue about how Shere had billed for work that his wife -- an Indianapolis attorney who’s been on inactive status since 2005 – did during the litigation. The court made a “small calculation error” that it described as a clerical error that cost Mark Shere about $1,020.25 and should be corrected on remand.

A larger sticking point in the litigation was that Shere failed to disclose during the litigation that Employers Fire Insurance Company was funding the litigation. Judge Barker criticized Shere for not disclosing this, but didn’t go as far as determining fraudulent concealment as Shell alleged and stopped short of sanctioning him. The trial court denied a motion to vacate the judgment based on that issue, and the 7th Circuit affirmed that decision.

On the point where Shere argues about the District judge’s portrayal of him in a less than favorable light, the 7th Circuit wrote that an appeal isn’t the proper remedy for this even if the judge had found misconduct, which she didn’t.

“What Shere does not mention is that the district court was, in many places, equally critical of Shell’s approach to this case, and that it had some complimentary things to say about Shere,” the court wrote. “We sit to review judgments, not particular language in district court opinions, and Shere will have to be satisfied with our decision on the merits, which is largely favorable to him.”


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.