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. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.