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COA: Trial court is wrong to order shareholders to pay attorney fees

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In a case that stems from a failed transaction in 2000 to purchase an event-decorating company, the Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the order that shareholders of a corporation are liable for attorney fees on a wrongful stop-payment claim.

Gregory Rankin, Robert Cochrane and John Bales created CBR Event Decorators Inc. to purchase Todd Gates’ event-decorating company. A $100,000 check and signed asset purchase documents were mailed to Gates, who signed and returned them to the shareholders. But the shareholders stopped payment on the check that same day after believing Gates misrepresented the value of the assets after speaking with some of his employees. Gates sued CBR and the shareholders when attempts to renegotiate the purchase agreement failed.

Gates alleged against CBR breach of the asset purchase agreement, wrongful stop payment of a check, and breach of the promissory note; and alleged fraudulent conveyance and wrongful withdrawal of capital against the shareholders. He also sought to pierce the corporate veil. The trial court ruled in favor of Gates and ordered the veil pierced. As part of an agreement staying execution of the judgment pending appeal, the shareholders provided Gates with an irrevocable letter of credit issued by PNC bank for $1 million.

The piercing of the corporate veil was reversed on appeal in 2012, but the appeals court wrote in its opinion that the trial court should determine the portion of the attorney fees the shareholders are liable for to Gates as a result of the wrongful stop payment. The trial court ordered attorney fees of $290,093 plus 18 percent interest.

The trial court, without holding a hearing, ordered the funds from PNC Bank deposited with the trial court clerk after Gates requested the deposit before the letter of credit expired. That order, along with the attorney fee issue, were before the Court of Appeals in CBR Event Decorators, Inc., Gregory Rankin, Robert Cochrane and John Bales v. Todd M. Gates, 49A02-1302-CT-159.

The judges noted there was some confusion based on the language of the 2012 opinion in CBR I as to whether the shareholders should have to pay attorney fees. The wrongful stop payment claim was pled only against CBR, not the shareholders, Judge Margret Robb wrote. The shareholders could only be liable for these fees if the corporate veil was pierced, but that decision was reversed in CBR I.

The judges rejected Gates’ argument that regardless of any allegedly incorrect outcome, the legal doctrines of claim preclusion, issue preclusion and law of the case preclude the trial court and COA from addressing the issue of attorney fees. None of those doctrines are applicable here, so the appeals court does not have to uphold the award of attorney fees against the shareholders.

The order granting Gates’ request to deposit the letter of credit funds with the trial court clerk was not an improper ex parte order, the COA ruled. The trial court’s order wasn’t necessary to effectuate transfer of the funds to the clerk, as the terms of the letter allowed Gates to draw down the available balance of the letter of credit by providing a written demand to the bank, which he did.


 

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  1. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  2. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

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  4. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

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