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Bonner County v. Cunningham

Court of Appeals of Idaho

April 24, 2014

BONNER COUNTY, IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MICHAEL T. CUNNINGHAM, JR., Real Party in Interest-Appellant, and NINE THOUSAND FIFTY DOLLARS U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant

2014 Opinion No. 33

As Amended April 28, 2014.

Page 1253

Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bonner County. Hon. Jeff M. Brudie, District Judge; Hon. Barbara A. Buchanan, Magistrate.

Valerie P. Thornton, Sandpoint, for appellant.

Louis E. Marshall, III, Bonner County Prosecuting Attorney, Sandpoint, for respondent.

LANSING, Judge. Judge GRATTON and Judge MELANSON CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 1254

[156 Idaho 293] LANSING, Judge

Michael T. Cunningham, Jr. appeals from the district court's decision on intermediate appeal affirming the magistrate's denial of Cunningham's motion for an award of attorney fees pursuant to Idaho Code § 12-117. At issue is whether respondent Bonner County acted under a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute, thus precluding an award under the statute. We reverse the district court's decision and remand for further proceedings in the magistrate court.

I.

BACKGROUND

On March 30, 2011, Cunningham's home was searched pursuant to a search warrant. Police found small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The police seized these items along with a lock box that contained $9,050 in cash.

On May 3, 2011, respondent Bonner County filed a complaint seeking civil forfeiture of the cash pursuant to the provisions of Idaho Code § 37-2744. Cunningham filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that Bonner County did not file its complaint within thirty days of the seizure of the cash as required, he contended, by I.C. § 37-2744(c)(3). The magistrate court granted Cunningham's motion and dismissed the case.

Cunningham then filed a motion for an award of attorney fees under I.C. ยง 12-117, arguing that the County had acted without a reasonable basis in law by filing the complaint late and by opposing his motion to dismiss. Bonner County resisted Cunningham's request for attorney fees, asserting that its defense of his motion to dismiss was not frivolous because the County raised viable, if ultimately unsuccessful, issues of statutory interpretation. The magistrate court concluded that the County's conduct was not unreasonable and denied Cunningham's motion for attorney fees. Cunningham appealed the denial of attorney fees to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate court's decision. This appeal followed. The sole issue is whether Cunningham is entitled to

Page 1255

[156 Idaho 294] an award of attorney fees for the proceedings in the magistrate ...


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