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Appeals court affirms rejection of HOA ‘abusive junk fee’

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A Morgan County man who took no action to defend a judgment in his favor nevertheless prevailed in the Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday. The judges upheld a trial court ruling that rejected a homeowners association charge it called an “abusive junk fee.”

The housing development in Camby sued in small claims court a homeowner who had fallen behind on homeowner association dues. In Heartland Crossing Foundation, Inc. v. Chris M. Dotlich, 55A01-1203-SC-119, Heartland Crossing Foundation sought to collect $795 in attorney fees and a $50 “administrative fee” in addition to a nearly 33 percent penalty for a late payment.

The trial court found in Chris Dotlich’s favor, holding that it was a cost not incurred and without basis and was “nothing more than an abusive junk fee.” The trial court also rejected Heartland’s plea for attorney fees because they were based on the administrative fee.

“Initially, we observe that Dotlich did not file an appellee’s brief,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote in a unanimous six-page opinion. “Under such a circumstance, we do not undertake to develop an argument on his behalf, and we may reverse upon Heartland’s prima facie showing of reversible error.”

The court ruled that a declaration of covenants, conditions, easements and restrictions of Heartland Crossing did not contain language allowing it to collect an administrative fee.

“The evidence most favorable to the judgment discloses that Heartland, by recovering late fees and attorneys’ fees from Dotlich, already recovered the ‘costs of collection’ and ‘reasonable attorney’s fees and paraprofessional fees actually incurred[.]’ … Therefore, under the terms of the Declaration, nothing remains for Heartland to recover,” the panel ruled.

“Dotlich does not owe Heartland the $50 ‘administrative fee,’ costs, or $795.10 in attorneys’ fees. Therefore, the trial court’s judgment for Dotlich is not clearly erroneous,” Bailey wrote.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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