COA holds law firms are judgment creditors, owe restitution

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In a dispute over whether two law firms should have to repay money from a judgment they received by way of attorney liens, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the law firms are judgment creditors, so they are liable to pay restitution to the state of Indiana.

The issue arose in Debra Minott, Faith Laird, Patti Bailey v. Lee Alan Bryant Health Care Facilities, Inc.; Parkview Residential Care Center, L.L.C.; Parke County Residential Care Center, L.L.C., et al., 49A05-1305-PL-213, in which several residential care facilities that provided services funded by the Family and Social Services Administration’s Residential Care Assistant Program sued the FSSA after it suspended funding for new RCAP residents and imposed fixed reimbursement rates. The providers were awarded $176,664.25 in damages. The money was disbursed among two banks and two law firms – Lewis & Kappes in Indianapolis and Chicago firm Williams Bax & Saltzman P.C., which had filed attorney liens. The firms received $72,399.22 of the damages award.

But the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and ordered more proceedings. At the trial court level, the final judgment order entered Nov. 8, 2012, did not address restitution to the state for the damages paid out. The state sought reimbursement from the law firms and the banks, but the trial court denied the state’s motion.

The law firms argued that the state’s motion for restitution was untimely and, even if it wasn’t, restitution following a reversal on appeal cannot be extended to non-party creditors.

The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by the firm’s claims, ruling first that the state’s motion for restitution is timely.

“The issue of restitution arose only after this court’s decision to reverse the trial court’s judgment. The trial court’s November 8th order neither addressed nor disposed of that lingering issue. Therefore, it was not a true final judgment,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote.

The judges then ruled that the law firms and banks are liable for restitution of the funds paid by the state to the providers. The banks and law firms are judgment creditors or their lawful equivalent, so they are liable. The COA pointed to an agreed order entered by the trial court in 2011 that gave the law firms and creditor banks the right to enforce the judgment.

“Because the creditors had the power to enforce the judgment in their own favor, they are judgment creditors and should be treated as such for the State’s request for restitution,” she wrote.



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