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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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