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Farming dispute creates first impression issue

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In a ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court on an issue of first impression, two of the state's five justices fear a new holding will have far-reaching impact not only on the forfeiture cases at issue, but also mortgage foreclosure cases impacting the commercial and industrial real estate world.

Justices issued a ruling Thursday in Keith Myers v. Wesley C. Leedy, No. 85S02-0808-CV-478, unanimously granting transfer and agreeing in result, but disagreeing on the scope of the ruling issued by the court.

Deciding a Wabash County case, the justices held that a tenant's leasehold interest in a forfeiture action survives when a land contract vendor files suit and knows or should have known that the tenant has possession of the property. Unless of course, that tenant is made a party to pending litigation.

While all five agreed with the end result, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan issued a concurring opinion that said the majority went too far in issuing a rule that impacts not only forfeiture cases, but also mortgage cases, and the court shouldn't have used this case to "alter the property interests of owners and lenders in billions of dollars of commercial and industrial real estate."

The case involves 200 acres of Fulton County farmland, which Eli John Yoder was buying from Keith Myers in installments. The land included crops that Yoder was supposed to own as soon as the crops came in for the season. Of that total acreage, about 160 acres were tillable soil and Myers then entered a lease agreement with Wesley Leedy to get $100 per acre for the land Leedy was farming. But in late 2004, Myers filed a complaint against Yoder for a breach of the original land sale contract; Leedy wasn't a party to that action. Settlement agreements didn't materialize and Leedy continued farming the property for the 2005 season and the early part of 2006.

Yoder was later found in default of that land sale contract, and the trial court decided his forfeiture of any interest in the property was the most appropriate remedy. When Leedy began farming the property following the court ruling in May 2006, Myers ordered him off the property and then rented the property to someone else for $125 an acre. Claiming damages of $36,760, Leedy filed a complaint against Myers for not allowing him to finish his farming - as the agreement with Yoder would have allowed. The trial court later came back with a judgment in Leedy's favor, finding that Yoder had the right to cash rent the real estate prior to the court ruling and that, since Leedy had started planting in March 2006, his interest survived the later ruling in May - he should have been able to finish the season out, the court ruled.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued a memorandum decision in April 2008 that reversed on grounds the tenancy didn't survive because Leedy had both constructive and actual notice of the breach of contract when he entered into the 2006 lease.

The justices granted transfer and affirmed the trial court, finding that Leedy's property interest wasn't extinguished because he wasn't included in the original breach of land contract action between Myers and Yoder.

But while concurring in result, Chief Justice Shepard and Justice Sullivan disagreed with how far the majority used it to alter the landscape on this issue and even for mortgage foreclosure cases.

"Principles from mortgage foreclosure laws are thus helpful to resolving the present case," the chief justice wrote. "By the same token, the majority makes it quite clear that it intends the legal rule announced in this case to govern future decisions in mortgagor/mortgagee cases, a vastly larger and more complex part of the state's economy."

He continued, "Importing the open-ended idea of equity into the complicated, largely statutory system which governs the massive interests of commercial real estate mortgages, applying it to past and present financial commitments, and declaring that all subordinate unrecorded or informal possessors survive unaffected by foreclosure unless the lender undertakes to obtain service of process on all of them is really quite remarkable.

"I perceive that today's ruling is not really consonant with prevailing national doctrine on mortgages, but would put off that debate until such moment as we might have before us parties like mortgage lenders and owner/mortgagors of apartment buildings, shopping centers, or other commercial or industrial real estate whose world is being altered by today's declaration."

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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