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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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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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