DIY: Not Always the Best Plan




There are many things that I could pay to have someone do that I do myself. Many people pay to have yard work done, but I rather enjoy it, plus being a healthy person who loves the outdoors I cannot justify paying someone to do the work I am perfectly capable of doing myself.

            Other things, however, are things I gladly pay someone to do because I know that because of their years of professional training they will be able to do the job effectively and correctly and I do not have to worry about it. Plumbing and changing my car oil are two examples for me personally. While I might be able to learn how to do the particular job myself, in certain areas even if I had taught myself I would feel better having a knowledgeable professional handle it and be able to deal with the intricacies and any unforeseen situations that could arise.

            Why am I sharing this in the legal blog? Because a recent case from the Indiana Supreme Court illustrates the potential pitfalls of trying to go it alone in the sometimes complicated world of litigation.  In McCullough v. CitiMortgage, two homeowners unsuccessfully challenged the foreclosure of their home.  While that does not make for a particularly interesting fact pattern, what is interesting is the opinion from the Supreme Court and “reading between the lines” the Court seems to imply that the homeowners may have had some legitimate arguments to make and potentially even win the appeal.

            The main problem was that these homeowners decided to proceed pro se, which means without a lawyer.  Most parties do have that right (corporations do not), but people who do that are held to the same rules as lawyers.  In this case, the homeowners did not properly designate materials to the courts, filed “woefully defective” briefs with the courts, and ultimately lost the appeal because, among other things, that had not placed any evidence into the court record.

            While the homeowners did submit with their briefs various materials, they did not follow the rules of procedure. Therefore, the Court could not consider those materials. Just because you give something to the Court does not mean it is “in evidence”, and if it is not “in evidence” then the Court will not consider it.   For example, in this case the homeowners claimed that they had paid off the loan owing to CitiMortgage through payments made under various Chapter 13 bankruptcy plans. However, the homeowners did not put those plans into the evidence before the Court.  This would have been a relatively easy thing to do, and whether or not it would have been helpful ultimately is unknown. However, the homeowners clearly did not give themselves their best opportunity to succeed by not getting evidence before the Court.

            I find it interesting that the Supreme Court accepted this case and then spent 10+ pages discussing the case history. I read it as an admonition that there are certain instances where it makes more sense to have someone else help you, and also a hint that this Court felt like the homeowners may have had some legitimate arguments, but did not do things correctly.   Again, the ultimate result may have been the same; we simply do not have all of the facts available to determine that.

            While lawyers (and plumbers and car repairs) can be expensive, trying to do it yourself can be costly as well.