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Court remands to recalculate attorneys' fees

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the eviction of a renter and an award of damages in favor of her former landlord, but it reversed the amount of attorneys' fees she has to pay because the trial court's rationale in determining the amount was insufficient.

In Jackie Fortner v. Farm Valley-Applewood Apartments, No. 20A03-0806-CV-314, the appellate court affirmed the eviction of Jackie Fortner from the federally subsidized apartment complex after Farm Valley-Applewood Apartments determined Fortner had forged documents to show she was receiving less child support and income than she actually had.

As per terms of the lease Fortner signed, if the apartment complex found out she failed to report her accurate income and benefits, it was able to initiate a notice of termination and request she repay any amount she wasn't entitled to receive. As a result of the forged documents, she paid $250 less a month in rent than she should have paid.

Fortner appealed her eviction and damages award entered against her, claiming there was a lack of notice and there were inadequate grievance procedures in place. However, grievance procedures don't apply to Fortner's situation because her lease violation resulted in termination of her tenancy and eviction, wrote Chief Judge John Baker. The notice to vacate also complied with due process procedures, the chief judge ruled, because representatives from the federal program subsidizing the apartment complex found no evidence Fortner was harassed or discriminated against.

There was sufficient evidence to show Fortner forged documents to show her income to be less than it actually was, which supports her eviction and the finding of damages in the amount of back rent and damages to the apartment.

Farm-Valley appealed the trial court entry of judgment of $4,000 in favor of the apartment complex against Fortner, which also included the attorneys' fees the apartment complex was entitled to receive. Farm-Valley argued the trial court improperly reduced the amount of its requested attorneys' fees by nearly $3,000. The trial court's rationale in limiting the award to $4,000 total, plus costs, was because Farm-Valley had filed its claim for judgment of $4,000.

But the appellate court couldn't agree with the trial court's rationale after viewing the record because the court actually had jurisdiction to enter an award up to $6,000 because it was heard in Small Claims Court, wrote Chief Judge Baker. The appellate court remanded for the court to conduct a hearing to determine the reasonableness of the fees and to award such fees in an amount not to exceed $3,335.04. This represents the difference between the small claims jurisdiction limit and the damage award of $2,664.96.

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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