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. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise