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Couple not a 'successful party' in settlement

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Despite a lack of Indiana caselaw addressing the use of the term "successful party" for an award of attorney fees after a settlement, the Indiana Court of Appeals deemed the term interchangeable with the term "prevailing party."

In Francisco and Alisa Delgado v. Peter Boyles, et al., No. 64A04-0911-CV-657, the Delgados appealed the denial of their request for attorney fees following a settlement on a failed real estate transaction with Peter Boyles. They claimed per the provisions of their vacant land purchase agreement, they were the "successful party" under the terms of the agreement and should be able to recoup attorney fees.

As part of the agreement, it said "If either party sues the other to collect said damages, the unsuccessful party shall be obligated to pay the successful party's reasonable costs and attorney fees as part of any judgment recovered ..."

The Delgados failed to secure financing to purchase the land, so they sought the return of their $5,000 earnest money and attorney fees. Boyles counterclaimed for more than $30,000 in damages and attorney fees per the agreement.

A settlement was reached returning the $5,000 to the Delgados, with the parties submitting briefs on attorney fees. The trial court concluded that because there was no judgment recovered in the case, there was no prevailing party, so no attorney fees could be awarded under the agreement.

There isn't a case addressing the application of a contractual characterization of a "successful party" to an award of attorney fees, but Indiana has repeatedly ruled on the issue regarding the prevailing party. The prevailing party in the context of attorney fees is the one who successfully prosecutes his or claim or asserts his defense, so there is no difference in the meaning of the two terms.

Relying on Daffron v. Snyder, 854 N.E.2d 52, 53 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), and Reuille v. E.E. Brandenberger Construction Inc., 888 N.E.2d 770 (Ind. 2008), the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision that the Delgados can't be considered the prevailing party under the vacant land purchase agreement. The Delgados' land agreement didn't define what constituted a successful party.

"Moreover, in the absence of a contractual definition of prevailing or successful party and a trial on the merits, as in Reuille, we conclude that litigation which is resolved by mediation or private settlement cannot result in a winner or loser," wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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