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Randy Poole and Trudi Poole v. Darin Davis

November 14, 2012

RANDY POOLE AND TRUDI POOLE, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFFS-COUNTERDEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS,
v.
DARIN DAVIS, D/B/A DARIN DAVIS CONSTRUCTION, DEFENDANT-COUNTERCLAIMANT-RESPONDENT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bingham County. Hon. Peter D. McDermott, Senior District Judge.

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

2012 Opinion No. 129

Stephen Kenyon, Clerk

ON THE BRIEFS

Randy and Trudi Poole filed an action against Darin Davis, dba Darin Davis Construction (Davis), alleging breach of contract, breach of warranty, and fraud. Davis counterclaimed for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and promissory estoppel. The jury found that the Pooles had prevailed only on the fraud claim and that Davis had not proved any of his counterclaims. The district court entered judgment in favor of the Pooles for $65,331 in damages on the fraud claim. The Pooles moved for attorney fees and costs, claiming that as the prevailing party in a dispute over a commercial transaction, they were entitled to fees pursuant to Idaho Code § 12- 120(3). The court determined that there was no prevailing party and denied the motion. The Pooles timely appealed, asking this Court to reverse the decision of the district court and find, as a matter of law, that the Pooles are the prevailing party and are entitled to attorney fees. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2007, the Pooles entered into a written contract with Davis to build the Pooles a house near Blackfoot, Idaho. After a dispute over the cost of the construction, the Pooles filed a complaint against Davis, alleging two counts of breach of contract and one count of breach of the implied warranty of workman-like performance. The Pooles later filed an amended complaint, adding a count of fraud and alleging damages of at least $171,592. Davis eventually filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and promissory estoppel. The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict finding that Davis did not breach the contract or the implied warranty of workman-like performance, but did commit fraud. The jury awarded damages in the amount of $65,331. After the trial, the Pooles requested an award of attorney fees. The district court held a hearing at which both parties argued the attorney fees issue, and the court denied the request after determining that there was no prevailing party. The Pooles moved for reconsideration of the attorney fees issue. After conducting another hearing and considering the parties' arguments, the district court issued an order denying the motion for reconsideration.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Determination of the prevailing parties in a civil action is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Eighteen Mile Ranch, LLC v. Nord Excavating & Paving, Inc., 141 Idaho 716, 718-19, 117 P.3d 130, 132-33 (2005) (citing Burns v. Baldwin, 138 Idaho 480, 486- 87, 65 P.3d 502, 508-09 (2003)). When reviewing a district court's decision to determine whether the 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." 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)). "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 record on appeal is not sufficient to permit this Court to review the Pooles' claims.

The Pooles contend that the district court abused its discretion by finding that there was no prevailing party because "there are no written orders" that explain the district court's reasons for its determination. Davis responds that the Pooles have not provided a record on appeal that would permit this Court to determine whether the district court abused its discretion. We hold that the record on appeal does not permit this Court to meaningfully review the district court's decision.

1. The district court is not required to issue written findings to support its prevailing-party determination.

To the extent the Pooles contend the district court erred by failing to explain its prevailing-party determination in writing, their argument is not persuasive. As we have explained, "the law is clearly settled that when awarding attorney fees in a civil action, the district court must consider the I.R.C.P. 54(e)(3) factors, but need not make specific written findings on the various factors." Lee v. Nickerson, 146 Idaho 5, 11, 189 P.3d 467, 473 (2008) (citations omitted). This rule is based upon the text of Rule 54(e)(3), which sets forth the factors that "the trial court 'shall consider ... in determining the amount of such fees.' (Emphasis added.)" Brinkman v. Aid Ins. Co., 115 Idaho 346, 351, 766 P.2d 1227, 1232 (1988) (quoting I.R.C.P. 54(e)(3)), overruled on other grounds by Greenough v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. of Idaho, 142 Idaho 589, 130 P.3d 1127 (2006). The plain language of the Rule "does not require written findings on each factor," and the court's "failure to specifically address each ...


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