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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. 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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