ILNews

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. Bill Satterlee is, indeed, a true jazz aficionado. Part of my legal career was spent as an associate attorney with Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso. Bill was instrumental (no pun intended) in introducing me to jazz music, thereby fostering my love for this genre. We would, occasionally, travel to Chicago on weekends and sit in on some outstanding jazz sessions at Andy's on Hubbard Street. Had it not been for Bill's love of jazz music, I never would have had the good fortune of hearing it played live at Andy's. And, most likely, I might never have begun listening to it as much as I do. Thanks, Bill.

  2. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  3. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  4. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  5. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

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