The Indiana Court of Appeals has vacated an Indiana trial court’s order domesticating an Illinois trial court’s arbitration judgment, finding such an order was prima facie error.
In 2007, Darlene Sekerez hired Grund & Leavitt, P.C., a Chicago law firm, to represent her in an Indiana custody dispute with her former spouse. The law firm negotiated a settlement agreement on Sekerez’s behalf, which resulted in an agreed order which gave custody to Sekerez, maintained visitation terms and held Sekerez responsible for paying her own attorney’s fees, which the firm said totaled more than $112, 400.
Sekerez paid $50,000, but disputed the remaining amount, so the firm filed a complaint against her in an Illinois trial court, seeking the remainder of its fees. In response, Sekerez appeared for the limited purpose of challenging the Illinois court’s subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over her, an Indiana resident.
The Illinois court entered an order finding the parties’ engagement agreement required their dispute be settled through arbitration. The parties then proceeded to Hammond, where they filed breach of contract claims, and Sekerez filed additional claims for fraud and legal malpractice.
In his final award, the arbitrator ordered Sekerez to pay the law firm an additional $49,336.15 in attorney’s fees and $1,012.50 as her portion of the administrative and arbitrator fees. The arbitrator further noted the award was in full settlement of the parties’ breach of contract claims.
Grund & Leavitt then returned to the Illinois court and moved to confirm the arbitration award, but Sekerez objected, again contesting the court’s jurisdiction. The Illinois court granted to firm’s motion to confirm the final award, entering judgment against Sekerez for $50,358.65.
Sekerez then moved in Lake Circuit Court to vacate the final award and added breach of contract, fraud in the inducement, constructive fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and attorney malpractice claims. The Indiana trial court denied the firm’s motions to dismiss, prompting the firm to file in Lake Superior Court a motion to domesticate the Illinois court’s judgment.
The Indiana court agreed to enter the Illinois judgment as final judgment, so Sekerez appealed in Darlene Sekerez v. Grund & Leavitt PC, 45A04-1610-MI-2395. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the Indiana trial court’s decision Tuesday, with Judge Edward Najam writing Sekerez has demonstrated prima facie error.
“The law firm’s ensuing attempt to have the Lake Superior Court domesticate the Illinois trial court’s judgment on the arbitration award appears, on the face of it, to simply have been an attempt to circumvent the proceedings in the Lake Circuit Court,” Najam wrote. “That was inappropriate, and the Lake Superior Court should have denied the request.”
Thus, the appellate court reversed the Lake Superior Court’s judgment and remanded the case with instructions to the Indiana trial court to vacate its order.