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David v. Boise Heart Clinic Physicians

March 2, 2012

DAVID F. OAKES, M.D., PLAINTIFF-COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLANT, BOISE, JANUARY 2012 TERM
v.
BOISE HEART CLINIC PHYSICIANS, PLLC,
STEPHEN W. KENYON, CLERK
DEFENDANT-COUNTERCLAIMANT- RESPONDENT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. D. Duff McKee, Senior District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Chief Justice

2012 Opinion No. 43

District court determination on attorney fees, reversed and remanded.

This case arises out of a determination by the district court that David Oakes (Oakes) was not the prevailing party in his claim against his former employer, Boise Heart Clinic Physicians, PLLC (BHC). Oakes brought a claim against BHC alleging that the company owed him $25,171.69 pursuant to an employment contract. BHC filed a counterclaim alleging that Oakes had been overcompensated for his work, and that Oakes owed BHC $32,794.10 for the overpayment. The jury sided with Oakes and awarded him $2,043.92, a fraction of the amount he sought. The district court entered a judgment conferring to Oakes the amount awarded by the jury, but found that neither party was the prevailing party for purposes of costs or attorney fees. Oakes appeals that determination to this Court.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Oakes was employed as a cardiologist by BHC from January 2000 until the end of July 2008, when he left to pursue other employment opportunities. While employed by BHC, Oakes had an employment agreement that entitled him to "an annual salary in an amount equal to fifty percent (50%) of the adjusted gross charges generated by the Physician." The charges generated by Oakes were from several different employment activities. Aside from his work for BHC, Oakes interpreted electrocardiograms for St. Luke's Regional Medical Center (St. Luke's) and participated on the Heart and Vascular Board. The employment agreement also governed Oakes's compensation for this work. Finally, Oakes was involved in a program through BHC called "Gainshare" that gave physicians a share of any reductions in costs or waste in patient care. Because of these complicated arrangements, Oakes's final payment would not be calculated until after his departure. The dispute over this final payment amount eventually led to the commencement of this action.

After his employment ended, Oakes engaged in correspondence with BHC for the purpose of receiving his final payment. Oakes never received any payment, instead receiving a series of letters that detailed the evolving computation of his final payment. The letters from BHC show a gradual increase in the amount of money BHC claims that it overpaid Oakes, finally reaching a total of $29,310.08. The May 11, 2009 letter from BHC included a demand for repayment.

On August 11, 2009, Oakes filed a Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial, claiming that BHC still owed him money under the employment agreement. At trial, Oakes detailed the alleged amounts owed to him, which totaled $25,171.69.*fn1 BHC brought a counterclaim and alleged at trial that Oakes was overpaid by $32,794.10.

In rendering its verdict, the jury was given a choice between three special verdict forms that corresponded with the three possible verdicts: one finding that neither party is entitled to recover from the other; one that finding that BHC owed money to Oakes; and one finding that Oakes owed money to BHC. The jury returned with a verdict in favor of Oakes, and against BHC, that awarded Oakes $2,043.92. After the verdict, Oakes submitted a proposed judgment and supporting memorandum that contained, among other things, a request for treble damages under the Wage Claims Act. BHC filed a motion in opposition to the proposed judgment, taking particular issue with the request for treble damages. On October 4, 2010, the district court entered a final judgment that awarded Oakes $2,043.92 and declared that neither party was the prevailing party for purposes of costs and attorney fees. Oakes timely filed a Notice of Appeal to this Court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The determination of prevailing party status is committed to the sound discretion of the district court and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. Jorgensen v. Coppedge, 148 Idaho 536, 538, 224 P.3d 1125, 1127 (2010) (citing Shore v. Peterson, 146 Idaho 903, 915, 204 P.3d 1114, 1126 (2009)). When examining whether a district court abused its discretion, this Court considers whether the district court: (1) perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of that discretion and consistently within the applicable legal standards; and (3) reached its decision by an exercise of reason. Id. Only in the rarest of circumstances will this Court reverse the district court's determination of which party prevailed. Shore, 146 Idaho at 914, 204 P.3d at 1125.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The district court erred in finding that Oakes was not the prevailing party in this matter.

Oakes argues that the jury chose the verdict form that represented a victory on his claim and a defensive victory over BHC's counterclaim. Oakes claims that in so choosing, the jury declined to use either a verdict form that would entitle neither party to any award, or a form that would entitle BHC to an award. In response, BHC puts forward several arguments regarding waiver and contends that the district court did not abuse its discretion.

1. Whether this claim is waived on appeal.

In its brief, BHC argues that Oakes waived the issue of attorney fees in several different ways. First, since Oakes argued that the Idaho Wage Claim Act applied in this case - an argument that the district court rejected - it would preclude attorney fees under any other statute. Secondly, that Oakes waived the issue by not timely filing a memorandum for costs and fees. And ...


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