COA: No error in calculating $35K in attorney’s fees

October 3, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the award of more than $35,000 in attorney fees, despite a lawyer’s argument that the amount was miscalculated.

In August 2009, Bobby Johnson sued his employer, Hix Wrecker Service, Inc., for unpaid wages and improper deductions. Seven years later, the Marion Superior Court granted Johnson’s motion for statutory attorney fees of $26,173.

During proceedings, Johnson moved for sanctions against Hix’s counsel, which the court granted on July 19, 2017. However, it subsequently granted Hix’s motion for reconsideration more than a week later and vacated the July 19 order, holding Johnson’s request in abeyance.

Meanwhile, the court granted Johnson’s July 6 request for supplemental fees in the amount of $8,108 for work Johnson’s counsel performed post-judgment. After an October 2017 hearing, the court ordered Hix to pay Johnson a total post-judgment attorney fee of $9,201 plus interest until paid. The court ultimately awarded Johnson some $35,000 in attorney fees.

Among other issues on appeal, Johnson contended the court erred in vacating its July 19 order and requested its reinstatement. But the appellate court denied his request in Bobby J. Johnson, Jr. v. Hix Wrecker Service, Inc., 18A-PL-10, noting that decisions regarding the imposition of sanctions for discovery violations remains within the trial court’s sound discretion.

“Given the trial court’s firsthand observation of this case, its familiarity with the litigants and their lawyers, as well as our presumption that the court acted fairly and equitably, we cannot say the court’s decision is against the logic and effect of the circumstances presented,” Senior Judge Randall Shepard wrote.

Johnson also argued that the trial court erred in its calculation and award of post-judgment attorney’s fees when it failed to use the lodestar method.

The appellate court found that Indiana holds no requirement that trial courts use the lodestar method to calculate attorney fees and that such determinations remain within the broad discretion of the trial courts.

“Johnson’s counsel was awarded statutory fees in the amount of $26,173. At the October hearing on post-judgment fees, the trial court informed the parties it wanted to hear evidence on the fees and did not ‘want to blindly accept what a lawyer submits with respect to numbers on a page,’” Shepard wrote.

“The court heard evidence of the customary hourly rate for attorneys in the area as well as argument from counsel and awarded Johnson’s counsel post-judgment attorney fees of $9,201. We find no error.”







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