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Judges reverse award of attorney fees

January 24, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the award of attorney fees to a daughter who was sued by her mother following a fall, finding there were no valid legal conclusions justifying the award.

In Violet M. Lockett v. Peggy Hoskins a/k/a Peggy J. Smith, No. 49A02-1106-CT-552, mother Violet Lockett sued her daughter Peggy Hoskins for negligence after Lockett tripped and fell on a ridge of concrete that was concealed by carpet while she was walking through a breezeway that connected the homes of the two women. Lockett, who rented her home from Hoskins, broke her hip.

Hoskins filed a counterclaim, arguing that her mother’s case was frivolous and asked for attorney fees and costs; she later moved for summary judgment on the negligence claim, which was granted. Lockett appealed, but the case was dismissed for inactivity. The trial court granted Hoskins’ request for attorney fees and costs, finding that Lockett’s lawsuit was unreasonable and frivolous, that Lockett continued to litigate after the claim became groundless, or that the case was brought in bad faith. Hoskins was awarded nearly $23,000 in attorney fees.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding that although Lockett’s claim was ultimately meritless, her arguments were logical and supported by citation to precedent. Lockett also made a good faith and rational argument on the merits of the action, and there’s no evidence she was acting in bad faith by filing the suit against her daughter.

“In the absence of valid legal conclusions justifying an award of attorney’s fees, the trial court’s grant of fees to Hoskins was an abuse of discretion and must be reversed. Furthermore, because this appeal is resolved in favor of Lockett, Hoskins’ request for appellate attorney’s fees is without merit and must be denied,” wrote Senior Judge Betty Barteau.

 

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