(Mansfield v. Reading, Court of Appeals Case No. 67A04-1512-CC-2239

Decision Date21 September 2016
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals Case No. 67A04-1512-CC-2239
PartiesMonique J. Hartley (Mansfield) and Mark J. Mansfield, Appellants- Plaintiffs, v. Amity Reading, Appellee- Defendant.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.


Joel C. Wieneke

Brooklyn, Indiana


Suzanne R. Siefferman Newcomb

Smith Amudsen

Indianapolis, Indiana

Appeal from the Putnam Circuit Court.

The Honorable Phillip I. Adler, Special Judge.

Cause No. 67C01-1404-CC-138

Friedlander, Senior Judge

[1] Monique and Mark Mansfield (collectively referred to as "the Mansfields") appeal the grant of summary judgment in favor of Amity Reading, and judgment after a bench trial in favor of Reading on her counterclaims. The Mansfields present the following restated issues for review:

1. Whether the trial court erred in granting Reading's motion for summary judgment?
2. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by denying Monique Mansfield's request for continuance?1
3. Whether the trial court's comments and actions violated Monique Mansfield's right to due process?
4. Whether the award of $12,000.00 in attorney's fees was unreasonable?

We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

[2] The facts of this case are as follows. On July 9, 2013, Reading signed a lease agreement to rent a two-unit residential property that was owned by the Mansfields and located on Franklin Street in Greencastle, Putnam County, Indiana. The term of the lease was from August 1, 2013 through July 31, 2014. Reading paid the Mansfields the first month's rent of $1,200.00 and a security deposit of $1,200.00. On July 26, 2013, Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, filed a foreclosure action against the Mansfields for the Franklin Street property.

[3] Reading took possession of the property on August 1, 2013. When she arrived, she found attached to the door a foreclosure complaint and summons addressed to "Unknown Tenant." The complaint alleged the Mansfields were in default on the mortgage on the property and sought a decree of foreclosure and to havethe property sold at sheriff's sale. Inside of the property, Reading found mold, mouse droppings, furniture and other belongings that had been left in the house, and a window that had both a broken pane and a broken sash. Reading discovered that neither of the two gas stoves within the property were in working order.

[4] Reading notified the Mansfields, through a property manager, of the problems with the property, but the problems were not rectified. Reading informed the Mansfields that she planned to vacate the property; and, she eventually did so. Reading asked that a prorated portion of the August rent, as well as the security deposit, be returned to her. Neither the rent payment nor the security deposit were returned.

[5] On February 26, 2014, the Putnam Circuit Court issued judgment against the Mansfields and foreclosed on the Franklin Street property. On January 7, 2015, the property was sold at sheriff's sale.

[6] On April 14, 2014, (after the foreclosure but before the sheriff's sale) the Mansfields filed a complaint for damages, alleging Reading did not fulfill her contractual obligation to lease the Franklin Street property for one year. The Mansfields sought $12,000.00 in damages, plus attorney's fees, "and all other relief proper." Appellants' App. pp. 13-14. On June 11, 2014, Reading filed an answer and counterclaim. She admitted she signed a one-year lease for the property, and that she vacated the property after paying one month's rent and the security deposit. She maintained however, she was constructively evictedfrom the property because it was uninhabitable and because of the foreclosure proceedings. Reading raised as counterclaims 1) breach of implied warranty of habitability, 2) fraudulent inducement, 3) failure to return a pro rata share of the rent and the security deposit, and 4) conversion.

[7] On May 14, 2015, Reading served on the Mansfields interrogatories and requests for the production of documents. The Mansfields did not comply. On August 17, 2015, Reading filed with the trial court a motion to compel discovery, seeking an order directing the Mansfields to answer written discovery, make themselves available for deposition, and reimburse Reading for expenses she incurred from the Mansfields' delay in responding to discovery requests. The trial court issued an order granting Reading's motion on August 20, 2015. The Mansfields did not comply with the court's order.

[8] On July 30, 2015, Reading moved for summary judgment on the Mansfields' complaint, alleging she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the foreclosure and sheriff's sale transferred all rights related to the Franklin Street property to the purchaser and, therefore, precluded the Mansfields from making any claims against Reading for unpaid rent. On that same day, Reading filed a motion for attorney's fees, contending the Mansfields had not complied with discovery. The Mansfields filed a response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, arguing Reading was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the law did not support her claim.

[9] The trial court held a hearing on the motion for summary judgment on September 10, 2015. The Mansfields did not appear at the hearing. Following the hearing, the trial court took the summary judgment matter under advisement. On September 18, 2015, the trial court granted Reading's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the Mansfields' complaint with prejudice. The following day, Reading filed a motion for sanctions, seeking (among other things) attorney's fees for the Mansfields' failure to comply with discovery.

[10] On October 9, 2015, the trial court conducted a hearing on Reading's counterclaims and request for attorney's fees. Monique Mansfield appeared telephonically and pro se. Mark Mansfield did not appear. At the onset of the hearing, Ms. Mansfield requested a continuance. Her request was denied.

[11] On November 13, 2015, the trial court issued its order, finding the Mansfields breached the implied warranty of habitability, fraudulently induced Reading to sign the lease, and failed to return Reading's pro rata share of the rent and the security deposit. The trial court also awarded Reading damages and $12,000.00 in attorney's fees. This appeal follows. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.


[12] The Mansfields contend the trial court erred in granting Reading's motion for summary judgment. Reading maintained in her summary judgment motion that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because any rights the Mansfields had to recover rent from her were extinguished when the FranklinStreet property was sold at sheriff's sale and the sheriff's deed was recorded. In their response, the Mansfields argued Reading was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Indiana law does not support her claim. The Mansfields cited the "Mortgages" section of the Indiana Law Encyclopedia as follows: "In the absence of a provision in the mortgage to the contrary, the mortgagor, while lawfully in possession of the mortgaged premises, is entitled to the rents and profits of the mortgaged premises and may dispose of them in any manner so desired." 20 Ind. Law Encyc. Mortgages § 60 (2016). According to the Mansfields, they were entitled to unpaid rents that accrued before the property was sold at sheriff's sale because during that time, they were the lawful owners of the property.

[13] The parties present the same arguments on appeal. We find the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Reading because Reading was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

[14] We review a grant or denial of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court. Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000 (Ind. 2014). We construe all facts and reasonable inferences to be drawn from those facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Jacobs v. Hilliard, 829 N.E.2d 629 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), trans. denied. Summary judgment is appropriate only when the designated evidence shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.; see also Ind. Trial Rule 56(C).

[15] While federal summary judgment practice allows a moving party to merely show the party carrying the burden of proof lacks evidence on a necessary element, Indiana's summary judgment standard establishes a higher bar for movants to clear. Smith v. Taulman, 20 N.E.3d 555 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014). A movant must affirmatively "negate an opponent's claim." Hughley, 15 N.E.3d at 1003 (quoting Jarboe v. Landmark Cmty. Newspapers of Ind., Inc., 644 N.E.2d 118, 123 (Ind. 1994)).

[16] "Summary judgment is a desirable tool to allow the trial court to dispose of cases where only legal issues exist. But it is also a 'blunt . . . instrument' by which the non-prevailing party is prevented from having his day in court." Hughley, 15 N.E.3d at 1003 (citations and some quotations omitted). "Indiana consciously errs on the side of letting marginal cases proceed to trial on the merits, rather than risk short-circuiting meritorious claims." Id. at 1004.

[17] The material facts pertaining to Reading's summary judgment motion do not appear to be in dispute. Reading entered into a lease agreement with the Mansfields to rent the Franklin Street property from August 1, 2013, through July 31, 2014. Reading paid the Mansfields only one month's rent and a security deposit. The Franklin Street property was foreclosed upon on February 16, 2014. The Mansfields sued Reading for unpaid rent on April 14, 2014. The property was sold at sheriff's sale on January 7, 2015, and a sheriff's deed was recorded on January...

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