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Court divided on purchase agreement termination

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The judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals were split in deciding whether the seller of a condominium should have to refund a deposit to purchase after the buyers discovered electrical problems that turned out to be minor issues.

In Gayle Fischer v. Michael and Noel Heymann/ Michael and Noel Heymann v. Caryn J. Craig, et al., No. 49A04-1004-PL-231, Gayle Fischer appealed the judgment ordering she reimburse the earnest money deposit of Michael and Noel Heymann and pay their litigation costs and attorneys fees after the couple backed out of an agreement to purchase Fischer’s condominium. The Heymanns entered into a purchase agreement and paid $5,000 in earnest money, and as a condition of the agreement they had the home inspected. The purchase agreement allowed for them to terminate the agreement if the inspection revealed a major defect and the seller is unable or unwilling to remedy the defect before closing.

The Heymanns’ inspector listed as a major concern on his report that there was no power to the outlets in two bathrooms and an outlet on a balcony. The Heymanns agreed to give Fischer until Feb. 18, 2006, to resolve the issue. On Feb. 17, they put an offer on a different unit, and on Feb. 19, they executed a document for release from Fischer’s unit. On Feb. 20, Fischer’s electrician fixed the problems by pushing a GFI reset button and replacing a light bulb.

Fischer then sued the Heymanns for specific performance of the purchase agreement or for reimbursement of maintenance expenses along with the difference between the agreed upon price and the present fair market value and attorneys fees and costs.

Chief Judge Margret Robb and Judge Patricia Riley reversed, holding the evidence doesn’t support the trial court’s finding that the Heymanns reasonably believed there was a major defect. They held the Heymanns had to have an objectively reasonable belief that the property contained major defects. The findings in the inspection don’t support an objectively reasonable belief that the defect was major.

“The report indicates there was no electrical power to three outlets, which could be and in fact was easily repaired. Therefore, under an objective standard, this would not have a significant adverse effect on the property’s value or significantly impair the health or safety of occupants,” Chief Judge Robb wrote.

The majority noted the buyer must be held responsible for selecting an inspector whose technical capability and approach to identifying and conveying problems in an inspection report enable a compromise as to repairs or cost deductions between a buyer and seller or termination of the purchase agreement. Any failure by the buyer’s inspector must be faulted to the buyer.

“Any incompetency of the Heymanns’ inspector – demonstrated by his failing to resolve the problem by pushing the GFI reset buttons and triggering the Heymanns’ concern as to the seriousness of the electrical problems – must be faulted to the Heymanns,” she continued. “It was the Heymanns’ responsibility to clarify with the inspector the extent of the electrical problem prior to their basing their decision to terminate the agreement on his findings.”

Judge Elaine Brown dissented, pointing out that there was no evidence the inspector chosen by the Heymanns wasn’t qualified, that his inspections were substandard, or that the report was lacking in quality.

She also dissented on the matter that the Heymanns gave Fischer through Feb. 18 to agree to remedy the problems, but she failed to do so. Judge Brown pointed to a part of the purchase agreement that states time periods in it are calendar days and shall expire at midnight of the date stated unless otherwise agreed to. By its terms, the purchase agreement expired at midnight on Feb. 18, she wrote.

The majority remanded for the trial court to determine the extent of damages owed to Fischer, as well as trial and appellate attorneys fees and costs.

 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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