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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. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. 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?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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