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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. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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