Judges order more proceedings in low-income apartment tax credit case

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Because there are genuine issues of material fact regarding claims made against apartment management company Flaherty & Collins in a complaint alleging fraud and other charges dealing with renting apartments to people who did not qualify based on income requirements, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered more proceedings on the case.

In Flaherty & Collins, Inc. v. BBR-Vision I, L.P., and New Castle Realty, LLC, 49A05-1111-PL-569, F&C entered into a management agreement with BBR-Vision I to manage Autumn Oaks in New Castle as an independent contractor. BBR owns the complex, in which a majority of the apartments are designated as low-income units, qualifying them for tax credits under Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code. New Castle Realty and BBR had a partnership agreement.

F&C hired several on-site employees, including a manager, and F&C was required to obtain income certifications and verify them before renting to someone. In September 2001, F&C discovered that a previous onsite manager may have forged a resident’s income documents from his employer to make him eligible to live in the low-income apartment. Other instances were discovered of people in apartments they did not financially qualify to live in. BBR was informed in November of the issues, which were a concern because BBR and its members could lose tax credits if the IRS conducted an audit and demanded a recapture.

In January 2002, BBR fired F&C as manager. In April of that year, BBR and NCR sued F&C alleging breach of contract, negligent supervision, indemnity, fraud and civil recovery of treble damages by a crime victim pursuant to the Crime Victims Statute.

On interlocutory appeal, F&C appealed the trial court’s ruling that evidence shows F&C’s conduct violated the Crime Victims Statute, that NCR had standing to assert its claim as a third-party beneficiary, and that the indemnity clause in the management agreement between F&C and BBR required F&C to pay BBR's and NCR’s attorney fees.

The COA reversed the trial court’s interpretation that Section 12(a) of the agreement requires F&C to pay attorney fees for first-party actions. The language of that section doesn’t create an exception to the general rule that an indemnity clause creates liability to pay only for third-party actions, Senior Judge Carr Darden wrote.

The appeals court also found the trial court erred in making findings that effectively granted summary judgment to BBR and NCR on the issue of whether they could recover damages under the Crime Victims Statute because there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the F&C’s employee’s action or BBR and NCR’s inaction cause any pecuniary loss to the companies. It also reversed what was effectively summary judgment on the issue of whether F&C committed deception.

The judges affirmed the decision that NCR had standing in this action. The partnership agreement between NCR and BBR and management agreement between F&C and BBR establish that the parties clearly intended to benefit NCR and that the duty imposed on F&C was in favor of NCR. NCR’s receipt of money and tax benefits depended on F&C’s performance of its responsibilities under the partnership and management agreements, Darden wrote.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.


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