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Justices uphold $94,000 in damages, fees for failed condo sale

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The Indiana Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that a seller of a condo whose buyers backed out of the purchase agreement over failed repairs could have mitigated her damages by selling the condo in 2007 to a different buyer instead of waiting until 2011 and accepting a lower price.

Michael and Noel Heymann entered into a purchase agreement in 2006 to buy an Indianapolis condo from Gayle Fischer for $315,000. An inspection of the property revealed several outlets did not have power and a light did not work properly. The Heymanns believed this constituted a “major defect” as defined in their agreement that allowed them to demand Fischer to fix the issues or walk away from the deal. Fischer failed to timely respond to their demand, but she did eventually fix the problem. They Heymanns tried to get out of the deal, but Fischer sued them.

The case made it to the Court of Appeals twice – the first time, the Court of Appeals ordered the trial court to determine damages owed to Fischer because the Heymanns’ demand itself breached the agreement because it stemmed from an objectively unreasonable belief that the electrical problem was a “major defect.” The trial court concluded Fischer failed to mitigate her damages because she could have accepted an offer to sell the condo in 2007 for $240,000 instead of waiting to sell it for $180,000 in 2011. The judge found she’s only entitled to approximately $94,000 in damages – the difference between the original $315,000 price and the $240,000 offer, plus other costs and attorney fees that accrued during that time.

A divided Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with the Heymanns’ argument that Fischer could have avoided all damages except the $117 repair bill for the lights if she had responded to their demand to fix the electrical problem.

But the justices agreed with the trial court in Gayle Fischer v. Michael and Noel Heymann, 49S02-1309-PL-620. The trial court acted within its discretion by finding that Fischer could have mitigated her damages by selling the condo in 2007 as well as in refusing to find that her duty to mitigate required yielding to the Heymanns’ breach.

“Just as breaching parties may not take advantage of their breach to relieve them of their contractual duties, neither may they take advantage of their breach to require non-breaching parties to perform beyond their contractual duties,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote. “And just as non-breaching parties may not place themselves in a better position because of the breach, neither may breaching parties.

“Holding otherwise would require sellers like Fischer to choose between surrendering to the terms of a breach or forfeiting damages whenever a buyer breaches an agreement by conditioning purchase on strict compliance with an unreasonable demand. This predicament would let buyers demand minor repairs with impunity and undermine sellers’ ability to enforce the “major defects” clause of countless real-estate contracts. To the  contrary, if the contract terms permit, sellers may refuse to replace the bathroom mirror, produce the warranty for household appliances, or — as in Fischer’s case — timely repair an electrical problem by pushing the reset button on three outlets and replacing a light bulb.

The justices pointed to the evidence that Fischer’s asking price for the condo was unreasonably high from 2007 to 2011, when it sold, and that she could have sold in 2007 but made an “unreasonable” counteroffer, thus killing the deal to affirm her damages award. The justices affirmed the trial court’s award of $93,972.18.

 

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  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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