Notre Dame Law student and Eviction Clinic secure unexpected victory for South Bend family

Author: Sarah Doerr

ND Law 3L Nate Barry shaking hands with this client, Noah Jeffcoat

When South Bend native Noah Jeffcoat was evicted from the home he had lived in for almost a decade in August of 2023, he came to the Notre Dame Law School’s Clinical Law Center to receive the legal counsel he would need to see the process through. What he found instead was a staunch advocate, an unlikely victory, and a brand new start.

Jeffcoat and his children were homeless and camping out of a pickup truck as a result of his eviction when he first met Notre Dame Law School 3L Nate Barry through the Law School’s Eviction Clinic last September. When he initially sought the help of REAL Services, a South Bend-based relief organization, Jeffcoat was referred to the Eviction Clinic. By this time, Jeffcoat had missed an eviction hearing in August, where a local small claims court had, after review of his agreement, entered an order giving possession of his home to the owner. The court then set a date for a damages hearing, where Jeffcoat would be confronted with a damages claim for back rent and physical damage to the property. When he came to the Eviction Clinic, Jeffcoat thought the score had been settled and was hoping to minimize damage in a losing situation. Barry thought differently.

ND Law 3L Nate Barry and his client, Noah Jeffcoat, walking up the stairs of the St. Joseph County Courthouse
ND Law 3L Nate Barry and his client, Noah Jeffcoat, walking up the stairs of the St. Joseph County Courthouse

Barry, under the supervision of Clinical Law Center program director and attorney David Pruitt, did a thorough review of Jeffcoat’s initial agreement from 2014, as well as three subsequent contracts signed between Jeffcoat and the owner. After completing a great deal of research on the law and the facts of the case, Barry determined that the relationship outlined was not that of a landlord and tenant, but instead more closely mirrored a land contract: a rent-to-own-style agreement between a buyer and seller of a property that does not require banks or other lenders. As a result of responsibilities assumed by the occupants of a property under a land contract, and because Jeffcoat’s monthly payments included interest toward the full cost of the property, Barry asserted that eviction was not the proper remedy to remove Jeffcoat from his home. Instead, a process similar to foreclosure would need to be followed–and, rather than owing potentially tens of thousands of dollars to the owner, Jeffcoat deserved some compensation for the years of payments he had made.

Throughout the case, Barry handled negotiations with opposing counsel and, ultimately, Barry and the Eviction Clinic were able to secure a victory for Jeffcoat in the form of $9,500. Jeffcoat is now leveraging his new start by searching for a new home for himself and his family.

“Nate reached out to me at my lowest point in life, when I didn’t know my rights and didn’t know where to go,” Jeffcoat said. “The Notre Dame Law Clinic saved me from being run over, and gave me the courage to stand up and start a new career and finish the race. I will forever be grateful to the Notre Dame Law Clinic and seven fold to Nate Berry.”

When asked to reflect on the experience, Barry highlighted the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Jeffcoat from early on in the case, and spoke about how different and complicated it was to take concepts he learned in the classroom and apply them to a real life situation. He shared that he felt strongly that he was acting as an advocate on Jeffcoat’s behalf, and that while the concepts he learned in class felt abstract and indefinite, working on a case for a person he met and had established a relationship with made his years of studying and learning feel more real.

“Through this case, I saw the good in what I was doing, and it made me excited to be a lawyer in a way that law school hadn’t,” Barry said. “This was a great opportunity to bring my skills to the community and put them to use in real life–it really required me to do God’s work.”

ND Law 3L Nate Barry walking with his client, Noah Jeffcoat
ND Law 3L Nate Barry walking with his client, Noah Jeffcoat

The Eviction Clinic, which is just one of the law school’s seven teaching law offices, pairs Notre Dame Law School second and third year students with clients facing eviction or related proceedings across St. Joseph County, Indiana. The clinic also works in conjunction with organizations to advocate for increased legislative protections for renters across the state, especially those undergoing the eviction process.

“Nate did a terrific job handling a difficult matter and helping Mr. Jeffcoat through a complex process,” Pruitt said. “He took full advantage of the opportunity to ‘first chair’ this matter. He learned a lot about himself and his capacity to make a difference. Students like Nate learn in the Eviction Clinic that knowledge of the law is not enough. Lawyers can and should make our communities better through action.”

The Notre Dame Law School Clinical Law Center, established in 1951 and supporting the Law School’s mission to “educate a different kind of lawyer,” is dedicated to providing students with hands-on, practical lawyering skills while working directly with clients and in the courtroom. Simultaneously, it also serves unmet legal needs in underserved populations and furthers social justice in the greater South Bend community. Since 1990, more than 2000 Notre Dame Law students have participated in a clinic.

Additional information about the Eviction Clinic and other clinics and experiential learning programs at Notre Dame Law School is available here.