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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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