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Majority affirms trial court in failed lease suit

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The majority on the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of a leasing company on a suit brought by the homeowners after the lessees failed to pay their rent.

Robert and Judy Geller entered into a contract with A.M. Rentals Inc. to lease their home in Westfield. The Gellers admitted that they didn’t read the agreement before accepting a lease agreement with Kurt and Holly Kinney. The A.M. representative Decarius Spells found the Kinneys and spoke to the Gellers over the phone about them. Spells said the Kinneys did have a bankruptcy filing on their credit history but have since been “clear.” Spells did not tell the Gellers that a high-fraud alert was on the Kinneys’ credit report nor did the Gellers see a copy of the report.

The Kinneys signed a three-year lease with a monthly rent of $2,495. After only a few months, the Kinneys stopped paying and owed $74,850 under the terms of the lease. The Gellers sued the Kinneys and A.M. The trial court concluded the Kinneys were only liable for unpaid rent until the Gellers sold their home. The trial court also ruled in favor of A.M. based on the plain language of the lease and management agreement between the Gellers and A.M. that A.M. breached the lease agreement and that A.M. was not liable to the Gellers by virtue of the parties’ exculpatory clause so it didn’t breach its duties under I.C. 25-34.1-10 in investigating tenants and recommending the Kinneys.  

In Robert Geller and Judy Geller v. Kurt P. Kinney, Holly Kinney, and A.M. Rentals, Inc., 29A02-1111-PL-1202, Judges Edward Najam and Melissa May affirmed the trial court. They found the exculpatory clause of the agreement exempts A.M. from liability for its failure to perform duties to the Gellers under I.C. 25-34.1-10-10(a)(3)(C). The majority also held that applying the exculpatory clause to the facts of this case isn’t contrary to public policy and that the conclusion that the Gellers’ sale of their home mitigated the Kinneys’ damages to the Gellers isn’t erroneous.

In his dissent, Judge James Kirsch believed the trial court erred in placing the burden on the Gellers to prove that Spells had committed an act that was exculpated by the contract and in interpreting the exculpatory clause to require the commission of an intentional act by an agent to establish liability.

“I also believe that the clause as interpreted by the trial court vitiates the contract, contravenes Indiana law and is unconscionable,” he wrote. He would remand with instructions to enter judgment for the Gellers for all losses incurred as a result of A.M.’s failure to perform its statutory duties to disclose to the Gellers the adverse facts known by Spells and to exercise reasonable care and skill in this transaction.
 

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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