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Justices: Agreement was impermissibly modified

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A LaPorte Superior judge made an impermissible modification to a divorced couple's settlement agreement by giving the bank's lien on the family farm priority over the ex-wife's lien, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

In their dissolution agreement, Robert Johnson agreed to pay Gina Johnson her interest in a family farm through a series of lump sums and installment payments until 2013. To operate the farm, Robert would take out a loan at the bank every April 15 to finance seasonal expenses, which is repaid after fall harvest. The line of credit is secured by an all-assets security agreement that is cross-collateralized with all other collateral with the bank as well as personal guarantees from the farm's owners. The bank requires first position on all assets securing the farm's debt.

The bank required Robert to get an agreement from Gina ensuring her interests in the farm wouldn't subordinate its own. Gina refused so Robert sought a declaratory order subordinating her lien, which the trial court granted.

The Supreme Court reversed in Gina Johnson v. Robert Johnson, No. 46S04-0907-CV-346. At issue is whether Gina agreed to waive her priority on lines of credit entered into after the settlement only up to the amount taken out for the farm's operations in the past or whether she waived her priority without limit. Robert attempted to take out money to cover the farm expenses as well as covering the payments he needed to make to Gina.

The agreement is silent on this issue, but the Supreme Court found the agreement undeniably assumes for the farm's continued operation in the manner Gina had grown accustomed, which requires renewing the lines of credit at issue in the case.

But the funds for Robert to pay Gina aren't implied as necessary to the agreement. Gina may have impliedly agreed to a subordinate position when it comes to the continuing operating expenses of the farm, but she wouldn't have assented to Robert taking on a large amount of debt to finance his payments to her. That would offer her little protection if he defaulted, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"An order declaring Gina's judgment lien subordinate to the lien securing the annual line of credit would not constitute a modification but an enforcement because it implies the continued financing of the farm's operations," he wrote. "Conversely, an order subordinating her lien to the bank's for amounts over and above such an amount would constitute an impermissible modification."

The justices also noted that if Robert's declarations about the state of his finances are accurate, he may have trouble repaying Gina without financing higher debt on the farm. The justices suggested they negotiate an agreement allowing Robert to meet his obligations and encouraged them to avoid further litigation on the issue.

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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