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Court to decide on prevailing party issue

January 1, 2008
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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