ILNews

Lawyer entitled to $1.05 million default judgment

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a default judgment in favor of an Indiana attorney because an Illinois attorney demonstrated "contumacious disregard" for a trial court's orders.

In David J. Fitzpatrick d/b/a David J. Fitzpatrick and Associates v. Kenneth J. Allen and Associates, P.C., No. 64A03-0811-CV-545, Illinois attorney David Fitzpatrick challenged the trial court's decision to enter default judgment in Indiana attorney Kenneth J. Allen's favor for $1.35 million in attorney fees. Allen, Fitzpatrick and attorney Mitchell Iseberg entered into a fee-sharing contract in which Fitzpatrick would handle a couple's products liability claim in an Illinois court and Allen would handle the medical malpractice suit filed by the couple. The agreement stipulated the attorneys would be paid 33 1/3 percent of any judgments or settlements in the couple's favor - Allen would receive 50 percent and Fitzpatrick and Iseberg would split the remaining 50 percent.

At some point during the litigation, Fitzpatrick proposed a different fee-sharing agreement and Allen rejected it. The next day, the couple terminated Allen's representation regarding the products liability case but retained him for the medical malpractice suit. The products liability case settled, but Fitzpatrick refused to disclose the amount. In August 2004, the trial court ordered disclosure of the settlement amount; Fitzpatrick refused and eventually the trial court entered a default judgment in favor of Allen. By this time, Allen had withdrawn from representing the couple in the medical malpractice suit.

Fitzpatrick eventually disclosed the products liability suit settled for $8.1 million, and the trial court entered judgment in favor of Allen, basing the award on 50 percent of the $2.7 million, which is 33 1/3 percent of the settlement amount.

Fitzpatrick argued that Indiana law prefers to give parties their day in court, but Indiana Trial Rule 37 doesn't require a trial court to impose a lesser sanction before dismissing an action or entering default judgment when a disobedient party has displayed contumacious disregard for a court's orders, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. Fitzpatrick had plenty of opportunities to disclose the settlement amount, but did not, despite the 2004 order that the information was discoverable.

The trial court was also correct in ordering a judgment in favor of Allen based on the fee agreement contract and not quantum meruit damages. Fitzpatrick's argument that the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5(e) prohibits Allen from collecting more than quantum meruit damages is misplaced, the appellate court ruled.

"The flaw in Fitzpatrick's argument is that he focuses upon Allen's level of participation in the products liability suit alone," the judge wrote.

Instead of examining what Allen did under the products liability case, one should examine the broad agreement encompassing both suits. Allen performed the work required of him under the parties' contract.

The trial court did err in awarding Allen $1.35 million by failing to take into account $600,000 that had been awarded to an attorney who worked on the couple's case and was dismissed after the couple hired Fitzpatrick. The Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court to enter a new judgment ordering Fitzpatrick to pay $1.05 million in damages, plus costs and interest, to Allen.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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