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Divided Supreme Court rules on attorney fees case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed the award of attorney fees to an Indiana town, although two justices disagreed and would have reversed the trial court.

In R.L. Turner Corp. v. Town of Brownsburg, No. 32S01-1109-PL-573, the trial court had dismissed R.L. Turner Corp.’s claims of tortious interference with a contractual relationship, quantum meruit, and breach of duty to a third-party beneficiary after Brownsburg allegedly interfered with a settlement agreement between R.L. Turner and the Brownsburg Municipal Building Corp. concerning a construction project.

The trial court’s judgment provided for “costs to be assessed” against R.L. Turner but didn’t specifically mention attorney fees. Brownsburg later filed a petition seeking more than $27,000 in attorney fees and expenses, which the trial court granted.

Last year, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, finding the trial court had the authority to award the fees and the record supported the finding that R.L. Turner’s claims were frivolous, unreasonable or groundless.

Turner asked the justices to take the case, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction to grant the attorney fees motion after the case had been dismissed. But the justices disagreed.

“Instead, we think of a court’s ruling as deciding the case such that any of its acts after judgment implicate not its jurisdiction, but rather court rules and judicial doctrines that safeguard the finality of judgments,” Chief Justice Randall Shepard wrote. “So, the question here is one of procedural error, not jurisdiction.”

Looking at the concept of awarding “costs” to the prevailing party, the justices held that means what it usually means – filing fees and witness fees, not the trial court’s action in denying or granting the town’s request for attorney fees.

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s application of pre-1993 federal rules for petitions on attorney fees, the Indiana justices found that guidance instructive.

“A petition for fees does not disturb the merits of an earlier judgment or order, so it does not implicate Indiana Trial Rules 59(C) or 60(B),” Shepard wrote. “As such, none of those respective time limits govern a petition for attorneys’ fees.  Instead, trial courts must use their discretion to prevent unfairness to parties facing petitions for fees. A request for attorneys’ fees almost by definition is not ripe for consideration until after the main event reaches an end. Entertaining such petitions post-judgment is virtually the norm. To be sure, a request for fees is in some sense an equitable petition, and it might be that an extremely tardy request should fall on deaf ears due to lack of notice or staleness.”

The court also summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals’ review of the record that special findings weren’t made on this case.

Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson joined in a separate opinion that concurred in part but dissented on the second aspect relating to the award’s defectiveness for want of special findings. The pair found that no hearing was held on the matter and the trial court didn’t indicate why it concluded that way, and so the two justices would have reversed the award on that point and remanded.

 

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  1. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  2. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  3. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  4. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  5. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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