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Prosecutor's office allowed to file counterclaim

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Marion County Prosecutor's Office was allowed to vacate property it leased after repeated water leaks because the landlords constructively and actually evicted the office from the property, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed March 4.

At issue in Village Commons, LLC and Rynalco, Inc. v. The Marion County Prosecutor's Office and Carl Brizzi, No. 49A05-0704-CV-195, is whether the exclusive-remedy provision in the lease between Village Commons and Rynalco (landlords), and the prosecutor's office barred the office from asserting it was evicted by acts or omissions of Village Commons; whether the trial court's findings that the prosecutor's office was actually evicted and constructively evicted were erroneous; and whether a provision limiting the prosecutor's office's time to sue barred its defenses and counterclaims.

In 1999, then-Prosecutor Scott Newman executed a lease between Lombard Associate Limited Partnership and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office to lease the basement of the Victoria Centre in Indianapolis. Later, Village Commons and Rynalco purchased the building and became the new landlords.

The prosecutor's office used the space for its Grand Jury Division offices and evidence storage. Two years later, the office started experiencing numerous water leaks. Because of costs, the landlords decided not to re-pour a concrete sidewalk above the offices to help prevent leaks or to repair drywall. Boxes of evidence had been destroyed and the phones went out as a result of the leaks. The water leaks continued into 2002. In October 2002, the landlords sent a letter to the office suggesting the Grand Jury Division move the evidence it was storing and other materials away from the part of the building that was vulnerable to water damage.

On Jan. 30, 2003, the Grand Jury Division vacated the office and relocated. That was also the last month the office paid rent to the landlords. In February 2004, the landlords brought a complaint against the prosecutor's office, alleging it breached the lease and sought damages provided under the lease. The prosecutor's office counterclaimed with a wrongful-eviction theory, arguing it had been constructively evicted in August 2002.

A bench trial ruled the prosecutor's office's defense and counterclaims were not barred by the lease's exclusive-remedy provisions, which said the office could sue for injunctive relief or recover damages resulting from a breach, but it isn't entitled to terminate the lease or withhold rent. The trial court also found the office to be "actually" evicted in October 2002 and "constructively" evicted in January 2003, and the landlords didn't mitigate its damages reasonably. The prosecutor's office was awarded more than $7,000 and costs on its wrongful-eviction counterclaim.

The Court of Appeals concluded the exclusive-remedy provision only limited the prosecutor's office's ability to terminate the lease, not the landlords' ability, so any occurrence by the landlords that actually or constructively evicts the prosecutor's office ends the office's liability to pay rent.

It was the landlords' own act or admission - not properly fixing the water leaks and preventing water damage - that resulted in the prosecutor's office not having to pay future rent, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The appellate court agreed that the office was actually evicted in October 2002, when the landlords asked the office to stop using part of the space that was most vulnerable to the water leaks, and that the office was constructively evicted in January 2003 because of repeated water leaks that went unfixed. The evidence at the trial court supports the finding that the prosecutor's office was deprived of a material part of the leased premises because of the water issues, which resulted in the actual eviction, wrote Judge Riley.

Finally, the Court of Appeals affirmed that the prosecutor's office was allowed to bring a counterclaim and assert the defense it had been evicted. The landlords argued the prosecutor's office was barred from claims after one year of the date of inaction or event. This provision in the contract bars the prosecutor's office from initiating an action more than a year later; however, it was the landlords who initiated this action, so the prosecutor's office's defense and counterclaim are not barred by the lease, she wrote.
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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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