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Smith v. Foegley Landscape, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 20, 2015

Stephen F. Smith, Appellant-Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff,
v.
Foegley Landscape, Inc., Appellee-Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant

Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court. Lower Court Cause No. 71D01-1307-SC-5420. The Honorable Michael P. Scopelitis, Judge.

Stephen F. Smith, APPELLANT, Pro se, South Bend, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: William G. Murphey, Kopka Pinkus Dolin PC, Crown Point, Indiana; A. Robert Masters, Nemeth Feeney Masters & Campiti PC, South Bend, Indiana.

Pyle, Judge. Barnes, J., and May, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 1232

Pyle, Judge.

Statement of the Case

[¶1] Appellant-Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff, Stephen F. Smith (" Smith" ), appeals the small claims court's judgments in favor of Appellee-Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant, Foegley Landscape, Inc. (" Foegley Landscape" ), on its breach of contract claim and on Smith's tort and promissory estoppel counterclaim.[1] He also appeals the small

Page 1233

claims court's award of attorney fees to Foegley Landscape. Foegley Landscape brought a claim against Smith in small claims court alleging that he had breached a contract for landscaping services by failing to pay the money he owed on the contract. Smith filed an answer and counterclaim arguing that Foegley Landscape, instead, had breached the contract because it had damaged the drainage system on Smith's house in the process of completing the landscaping project. In his counterclaim, Smith requested damages for the broken drainage system. After a bench trial, the small claims court found in favor of Foegley Landscape on both the claim and counterclaim, entered judgment for the amount owed under the contract, and also awarded Foegley Landscape attorney fees and costs.

On appeal, Smith argues that the small claims court erred in finding in favor of Foegley Landscape on both the claim and counterclaim because the company did not present any evidence contradicting his argument that it had damaged his drainage system. Accordingly, Smith asserts, the company breached its contractual promise to fulfill the contract in a " workmanlike manner" and was liable for damages for the drainage system. Alternately, Smith argues that the small claims court abused its discretion in awarding Foegley Landscape attorney fees because its insurer actually paid for one of the attorneys and because there was insufficient evidence to determine the reasonableness of the fees. We conclude that, contrary to Smith's arguments, Foegley Landscape presented evidence that it did not damage Smith's drainage system, and we therefore affirm the small claims court's judgments on the claim and counterclaim. However, we also conclude that there was not sufficient evidence for the small claims court to determine the reasonableness of Foegley Landscape's attorney fees. Accordingly, we reverse the small claims court's award of attorney fees and remand to the court so it can hold a hearing and determine reasonable attorney fees.

We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

Issues

[¶2] 1. Whether the small claims court erred when it entered judgment in favor of Foegley Landscape on its breach of contract claim and on Smith's tort and ...


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