ILNews

Court to decide on prevailing party issue

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer Thursday to determine who would be considered the "prevailing party" when a settlement lacks a judicial resolution.

In Kirk Reuille v. E.E. Brandenberger Construction, Inc., No. 02A04-0704-CV-186, Reuille appealed the trial court's judgment in favor of E.E. Brandenberger when the court decided Reuille was not the prevailing party in the contract between him and Brandenberger and said the trial court erred in characterizing his motion for attorney fees as one for summary judgment.

Reuille and Brandenberger entered into a contract for the construction of a new home in Fort Wayne. After completion, Reuille experienced water leakage through the windows during and after it would rain. Brandenberger attempted to fix the problem several times, but water continued to leak into the house.

Reuille filed a complaint against the company for breach of warranty, breach of contract, and negligence. He also added the maker of the windows to his suit. The three parties came to a partial agreement in mediation, with the exception of whether Brandenberger is liable for Reuille's costs, including attorney fees. In the contract Reuille entered into with Brandenberger, the prevailing party of any action at law or in equity involving a claim of at least $5,000 was entitled to reasonable costs, including attorney fees.

The trial court denied Reuille's motion for costs and attorney fees, finding Reuille wasn't the prevailing party.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court ruling, agreeing with Brandenberger's argument that with a private settlement only, Reuille is not a prevailing party as defined under Indiana law when the two entered into the contract or under current precedent. Even though the parties entered into a settlement agreement, Reuille didn't have a consent decree or an enforceable judgment entered along with the settlement agreement.

In terms of the trial court treating his motion for attorney fees as one for summary judgment, that was correct because there were no facts to dispute, so the hearing was for summary judgment, the Court of Appeals held.
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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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