Saturday, December 20, 2008

Court remands to recalculate attorneys fees
The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the eviction of a renter and an award of damages in favor of her former landlord, but it reversed the amount of attorneys' fees she has to pay because the trial court's rationale in determining the amount was insufficient.

In Jackie Fortner v. Farm Valley-Applewood Apartments, No. 20A03-0806-CV-314, the appellate court affirmed the eviction of Jackie Fortner from the federally subsidized apartment complex after Farm Valley-Applewood Apartments determined Fortner had forged documents to show she was receiving less child support and income than she actually had.


Although Fortner submitted a closing statement, she did not object to Farm Valley’s attorney fee request. On October 17, 2007, the trial court awarded judgment in Farm Valley’s favor as follows:
6. Damages are . . . proven in the sum of $2664.96.
7. The plaintiff is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees under the terms of the lease. The plaintiff’s submission would support a recovery of attorney fees in excess of $4500. As a matter of due process, and the resulting policy of this Court, since the plaintiff has filed its claim for judgment of $4000.00, the Court will not award judgment in excess of the claim.
. . . The Court enters judgment for the plaintiff in the sum of $4,000.00 plus costs. Appellant’s App. p. 7-8 (emphasis added).
In reviewing the evidence presented at trial and considering the parties’ agreement allowing Farm Valley to submit a subsequent request and affidavit for attorney’s fees, we cannot agree with the trial court’s rationale in entering a total judgment in the amount of $4,000 and its implicit reduction of Farm Valley’s request for attorney’s fees—to which Fortner did not object—from $4,269 to $1,335.04.1 Indeed, the trial court had jurisdiction to enter a judgment amount not to exceed $6,000. Ind. Code § 33-28-3-4....Although the trial court specifically found that Farm Valley’s “submissions would support a recovery of attorney fees in excess of $4,500,” appellant’s App. p. 8, we note that the record before us is insufficient to determine the reasonableness of the requested fees. Although Fortner did not object to the proposed request for attorney’s fees, there is nothing before us establishing the number of hours that counsel for Farm Valley spent on the case or the hourly rate that was charged. Indeed, the hours worked and the rate charged are a common starting point for determining the reasonableness of a fee. See In re Estate of Inlow, 735 N.E.2d 240, 257 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) (describing the lodestar method of calculating reasonable attorney fees).

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