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Companies can’t recover attorney fees from general contractor

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The judgments awarded against the general contractor in the construction of a Portage movie theater are supported by the evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday. But, the trial court should not have awarded the contractors who sued attorney fees under the mechanic’s lien statute.

Roncelli served as general contractor on the project, in which Goodrich leased property to construct the theatre. Roncelli hired as contractors Wilson Iron to provide the steel structure of the theater, Fostcorp to provide HVAC and Johnson Carpet to install carpet in the theater.

The roof framing plans did not use the industry standard symbol to depict that the joist girders would be modified to allow HVAC ductwork to pass through. Because the hourglass mark used on the plans was meaningless to Wilson Iron, it ignored it and created standard joist girders. Because of the joist issues, Fostcorp had to modify its plans to install the HVAC. There were also issues involving the ordering and installation of the carpet.

All of these issues led Wilson Iron, Fostcorp and Johnson Carpet to file mechanic’s liens for unpaid work. The trial court ultimately awarded more than half a million dollars to Fostcorp against Roncelli, plus nearly $100,000 in attorney fees; more than $400,000 to Wilson Iron against Roncelli, plus nearly $300,000 in attorney fees; and more than $55,000, plus pre-judgment interest in favor of Johnson Carpet against the general contractor.

Roncelli appealed, which the Court of Appeals affirmed, except with respect to the award of attorney fees. The purpose of the mechanic’s lien statutes is to make a property owner an involuntary guarantor of payments for the reasonable value of improvements made to real estate by labor or materials furnished by laborers or materialmen, Judge Margret Robb wrote in Goodrich Quality Theaters, Inc. and Roncelli, Inc. v. Fostcorp Heating and Cooling, Inc., Wilson Iron Works, Inc., Johnson Carpet, Inc., d/b/a Johnson Commercial Interiors, 64A03-1308-PL-318.

“As Roncelli is not the owner of the real estate or the structure, a mechanic’s lien cannot be enforced against it and subsequent attorney fees under that code provision are inapplicable,” she wrote. “Therefore, each award of attorney fees based on Indiana Code section 32-28-3-14 against Roncelli must (be) reversed.”
 

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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