Idaho Land Law

A Blog Discussing Current Issues of Land Use, Real Estate, and Construction Law in the State of Idaho.

Filtering by Tag: Attorney's Fees

New Eminent Domain Case from the Supreme Court of Idaho

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@depositphotos-londondeposit

The Idaho Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Kootenai County district court’s compensation award to HJ Grathol (“Grathol”), vacated and remanded the district court’s denial of attorney fees to the Idaho Transportation Department (“ITD”), and affirmed the district court’s award of costs to ITD. The Court also unanimously awarded attorney fees and costs to ITD on appeal. 

A link to the full decision can be found here: Idaho Trans. Dep’t v. HJ Grathol, Docket No. 41068 (February 11, 2015) http://www.isc.idaho.gov/opinions/40168.pdf

This eminent domain case arose when ITD acted to condemn 16.314 acres of Grathol’s 56.8 acres in order to improve U.S. Highway 95. After a bench trial, the district court held that just compensation would be based on the 56.8-acre parcel’s value and that the property remaining suffered no severance damages. Grathol argued on appeal that the district court should have based just compensation on a 30-acre parcel. Grathol also argued that the district court ignored Grathol’s severance damage evidence and improperly excluded testimony about damages from a proposed frontage road. Grathol also appealed the district court’s award of costs to ITD, arguing that ITD was not entitled to costs. ITD cross-appealed, arguing that the district court should have awarded ITD reasonable attorney fees under Ada County Highway District v. Acarrequi, 105 Idaho 873, 673 P.2d 1067 (1983). 

Contrary to Grathol’s assertions that the district court ignored the law and evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court found substantial and competent evidence supporting the district court’s findings that Grathol’s parcel was valued at 56.8 acres and that the remainder suffered zero severance damages. The Court also found the district court did not err by excluding testimony about impacts from an alleged frontage road because this Court held in a prior decision that ITD had no intent to condemn land for that road. 

As to attorney fees, the Court vacated the district court’s denial of attorney fees based on Idaho Code section 12-117 because that statute is not the exclusive source of fees for state agencies. The Court reasserted that it held in Acarrequi that courts can award attorney fees to a condemnor in extreme and unlikely cases. The Court then adopted a three-part test to determine when a case is extreme and unlikely. The Court remanded for the district court to analyze attorney fees within the new “extreme and unlikely case” parameters. 

As to attorney fees on appeal, the Court found that this was in fact an “extreme and unlikely case” and awarded ITD its reasonable attorney fees to be paid by Grathol. The Court found Grathol’s arguments on appeal were unreasonable and frivolous because Grathol asked this Court to re-weigh the evidence and second guess the district court without any legal or factual basis to support its arguments.

One of the lessons from this case is that appealing decisions in condemnation cases is not without risk that the Court may award attorney’s fees to the condemnor.  Our suggestion would be to carefully balance this risk before proceeding with an appeal.

Idaho Supreme Court Awards Attorneys Fees in Easement Case

Another Idaho easement case…  

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@Depositphotos_4987607

Unfortunately, easements are the equivalent of a full-time employment act for land use attorneys.  You can just count on a dispute arising over an improperly located or undefined easement. The following case gives us some guidance on not only easements but also on why a court will award attorney’s fees in a frivolously filed case.    

On January 23, 2015, the Supreme Court of Idaho issued its decision in The Jim & Maryann Plane Family Trust v. Skinner, Docket No. 41448.

In an appeal from Bear Lake County, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision denying the Jim and Maryann Plane Family Trust’s motion to void a portion of an earlier stipulated judgment regarding a ten-foot wide driveway easement. The parties’ predecessors in the case stipulated to an entry of a judgment creating a five-foot driveway easement over land currently belonging to Jason and Janae Skinner with the other five-foot of the driveway easement being located on land that might (according the parties’ predecessors) be State highway right-of-way.  Already you can see the potential problem for future landowners.

The Plane Family Trust argued the stipulated judgment was void for lack of jurisdiction and illegal because the State was not a party to the stipulated judgment. The Trust asked the district court to delete portions of the stipulated judgment referring to the location of the driveway on the State highway right-of-way. This would have had the effect of doubling the width of the Trust’s easement across the Skinners’ property. 

The Supreme Court determined that Rule 60(b)(4) did not authorize the district court to modify a judgment in such a fashion and that the judgment was not void or illegal. The Supreme Court also ruled the district court had not abused its discretion when it awarded attorney fees to the Skinners for their defense of a frivolous action. The Supreme Court found the appeal to be frivolous, and imposed sanctions against the Trust and its attorneys, ordering them to pay the attorney fees and costs incurred by the Skinners in the defense of the appeal.

It should be noted that the Trust failed to mention the State had granted the Trust a license to use the State highway right-of-way for purposes of ingress and egress to the Trust’s property.  While this is not discussed in-depth in the decision, I cannot help but think this played a critical role in the award of attorneys fees.

The case is a good read and can be found in its entirety at:

http://www.isc.idaho.gov/opinions/41448.pdf

Mechanic’s Liens, Contract Claims, and Attorney’s Fees for the Defense?

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The Idaho Supreme Court recently provided some additional guidance on the recovery of attorney’s fees for the defense of contract claims.

In Intermountain Real Properties, LLC v. Draw, LLC, the Supreme Court examined a subject near to the hearts of Idaho Land Law blog readers… the validity of an Idaho mechanic’s lien.  Look for a future post on the mechanic’s lien portion of this case but for today I want to discuss the Supreme Court’s view of recovering attorney’s fees under I.C. § 12-120(3) for the successful defense of a contract or an open account claim.

By way of background, Idaho Code section 12-120(3) states:

In any civil action to recover on an open account, account stated, note, bill, negotiable instrument, guaranty, or contract relating to the purchase or sale of goods, wares, merchandise, or services and in any commercial transaction unless otherwise provided by law, the prevailing party shall be allowed a reasonable attorney’s fee to be set by the court, to be taxed and collected as costs.

In this case, TMC Contractors, Inc. (“TMC”) filed a Complaint for Collection and Petition to Foreclose Materialman’s Lien against Draw and various other defendants.  After filing its Petition, TMC assigned its lien to Intermountain Real Properties, LLC (“Intermountain”) and Intermountain proceeded with claims for breach of contract, open account, unjust enrichment, and lien foreclosure.  The district court ruled against Intermountain on all counts and awarded attorney’s fees to Draw under I.C. § 12-120(3).  Intermountain appealed.   

The Supreme Court upheld the district court on all counts and stated that I.C. § 12–120(3) will apply when a party alleges the existence of a contractual relationship or open account.  In other words, when a plaintiff alleges a commercial contract exists and the defendant successfully defends by showing that the commercial contract never existed, the court awards the defendant attorney fees.  That is pretty strong medicine for any plaintiff and the potential risk associated with making a breach of contract or open account claim should be considered before filing any petition on those counts in Idaho.

 


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