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Trial court erred in finding provision was liquidated damages clause

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A forfeiture provision in a purchase agreement between the Dean V. Kruse Foundation and Jerry Gates, the buyer of West Baden property, did not constitute a liquidated damages clause as the trial court ruled, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Tuesday. The judges ruled that the Kruse parties are entitled to more damages as a result of Gates’ breach of contract.

The Kruse Foundation was given a large parcel of property and 300,000 square foot manufacturing facility in West Baden. The foundation is the charitable organization that operates a World War II museum and automobile museum in Auburn. The foundation found that the costs were too much to maintain the property and it continually lost money, so the foundation sought to sell the property. Those attempts were unsuccessful, so Dean Kruse, an auctioneer and licensed real estate broker, auctioned the property. The auction was final and required earnest money. Gates bought the property with a $4 million bid and 5 percent buyer’s premium. He gave $100,000 to Kruse as earnest money. A few weeks later, Gates informed Kruse he was terminating the purchase agreement.

The property was eventually sold for $2.35 million. Gates then sued Kruse and the foundation for breach of contract, fraud and conversion, seeking the earnest money back. The Kruse parties counterclaimed for breach of contract and slander of title. After a ruling for Gates and an appeal that reversed, the trial court entered summary judgment for the Kruse parties and found the $100,000 was the appropriate amount of damages. The trial court believed the purchase agreement contained a liquidated damages provision and the Kruse parties were only entitled to the earnest money. The Kruse parties appealed.

Using caselaw, the Court of Appeals found that the provision at issue in the purchase agreement indicates intent to penalize the purchaser for a breach rather than intent to compensate the seller in the event of a breach. Although there is no mention of forfeiture as a penalty, the provision is also not labeled as liquidated damages, Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

“Further, the Purchase Agreement provides that the remedy of specific performance may be available to the seller in the event of default, suggesting that there is no ability for the purchaser to simply ‘walk away’ in the event of his breach. These features arguably favor interpretation of the provision as a penalty rather than as one providing for liquidated damages,” she wrote.

The appellate judges also disagreed with the trial court that the evidence of the property’s value was uncertain as there was sufficient evidence to determine the fair market value of the property at the time of the breach. They also disagreed that the Kruse parties are precluded from asserting legal damages for Gates’ breach. The judges remanded with instructions for the trial court to calculate the measure of damages as a result of the breach of contract.

 

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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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