Landscaper’s attorney fails to explain fee

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A landscaping company’s award for attorney fees has been sent back to small claims court for reconsideration after the business and the attorney failed to submit documentation supporting the fee amount.

Foegley Landscaping filed a breach of contract claim in small claims court against Stephen Smith, professor at Notre Dame Law School, for failure to pay the remaining $2,966 owed for yard improvements. Smith filed a counterclaim that Foegley had damaged his water drainage system and had not repaired it.

At the end of the trial, Foegley filed fee affidavits from its two attorneys, A. Robert Masters and Williams G. Murphey. Masters averred his firm billed the landscaping company $500 for its representation. Murphey averred his fees totaled $4,054.90, but he did not provide any documentation about his hourly rate or other explanation.

The small claims court entered a judgment of $5,410.55 in favor of Foegley which included the principal amount of the claim, interest and “reasonable” attorney fees of $1,500.  

After the small claims court upheld the attorney fees award, Smith appealed. He argued the award of Murphey’s fees was unreasonable because the attorney did not submit any documentation for the work he did.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed.

In Stephen F. Smith v. Foegley Landscape, Inc., 71A03-1405-SC-169, the Court of Appeals affirmed the small claims court’s judgment in favor of the landscaping company on its breach of contract claim. However, the appellate court reversed and remanded the award of attorney fees.

“…there is no evidence in the record concerning the nature of Murphey’s representation, the hours he spent on the case, or his hourly charge,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the court. “He merely submitted an affidavit to the small claims court stating that, as a result of his representation, Foegley Landscape had incurred costs and legal expenses of $4,045.90 related to the litigation. Absent information concerning the nature of Attorney Murphey’s services, the small claims court could not have properly evaluated the reasonableness of his fees and therefore abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees.


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