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Thomas E. Stevenson and Vicki Jan v. Windermere Real Estate/Capital Group

March 22, 2012

THOMAS E. STEVENSON AND VICKI JAN STEVENSON, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS-CROSS RESPONDENTS,
v.
WINDERMERE REAL ESTATE/CAPITAL GROUP, INC., AN IDAHO CORPORATION. DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT-CROSS APPELLANT, AND 323 JEFFERSON LLC, AN IDAHO LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cheri C. Copsey, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Horton, Justice.

2012 Opinion No. 55

Stephen Kenyon, Clerk

The decision of the district court is affirmed.

Real estate purchasers Thomas and Vicki Stevenson (the Stevensons) appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing their unjust enrichment claim against Windermere Capital Group (Windermere), broker to seller 323 Jefferson, LLC (Jefferson). The Stevensons also appeal the district court's award of attorney fees to Windermere pursuant to I.C. § 12-121. Windermere cross-appeals the district court's denial of its request for attorney fees pursuant to I.C. § 12-120(1). We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Stevensons desired to purchase a condominium from Jefferson, and the parties executed a Real Estate Purchase and Sale Agreement (REPSA) for that purpose. Pursuant to the REPSA, the Stevensons deposited $38,000 earnest money with Jefferson's broker, Windermere. Upon the Stevensons' written authorization, Windermere transferred the funds to Jefferson. Jefferson then paid Windermere a $9,500 partial commission pursuant to an Exclusive Seller Representation Agreement (Representation Agreement), which obligated Jefferson to pay

Windermere a commission whenever a ready, willing, and able purchaser was procured. Jefferson decided not to sell the condominium to the Stevensons and notified them that it was terminating the REPSA.

The REPSA specified remedies upon default by either of the parties to the agreement. In the event that Jefferson failed to comply with any term of the agreement, the Stevensons were "entitled to the full return of the Deposit, together with any interest accrued thereon." Despite this unambiguous provision, Jefferson failed to return the deposit. The Stevensons filed suit against both Jefferson and Windermere. Their complaint alleged that Jefferson breached the REPSA and also advanced a claim of unjust enrichment against both Jefferson and Windermere. The Stevensons also asserted that the REPSA was unenforceable because it did not contain an adequate legal description. Jefferson settled with the Stevensons, agreeing to refund the Stevensons' earnest money, less the $9,500 commission paid to Windermere.*fn1

Windermere answered and cross-claimed*fn2 against Jefferson, alleging two counts of breach of contract, two counts of unjust enrichment and one count of fraud. Windermere later moved for summary judgment as to the Stevensons' unjust enrichment claim. After receiving oral argument on the motion, the district court ruled from the bench. Since the Stevensons neither disputed that the Representation Agreement entitled Windermere to commissions nor asserted they were a party to that Agreement, the court found there were no disputed issues of material fact. The court concluded that Windermere was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Stevensons had not conferred a benefit upon Windermere and it was just for Windermere to retain a commission to which it was contractually entitled. The court entered an order dismissing the Stevensons' claim against Windermere with prejudice, certifying the order as a final judgment pursuant to I.R.C.P. 54(b). In a subsequent order, the district court made a written finding that the Stevensons had pursued their claim against Windermere unreasonably and without foundation and granted Windermere's request for attorney fees pursuant to I.C. § 12- 121. However, the court denied Windermere's request for fees pursuant to I.C. § 12-120(1), holding that "the amount pled was in excess of $25,000."

The Stevensons timely appealed the district court's order dismissing their claim against Windermere and the award of attorney fees. Windermere cross-appealed, challenging the court's refusal to award fees pursuant to I.C. § 12-120(1). Windermere seeks attorney fees on appeal.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court applies the same standard as does a trial court when it rules upon a motion for summary judgment. Read v. Harvey, 141 Idaho 497, 499, 112 P.3d 785, 787 (2005). Thus, we construe all disputed facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Sprinkler Irr. Co., Inc. v. John Deere Ins. Co., Inc., 139 Idaho 691, 695-96, 85 P.3d 667, 671-72 (2004). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there ...


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