RUSSELL STEVENS and LAURA STEVENS, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
KENNETH EYER and SALLY EYER, husband and wife; TIMOTHY FARRELL and NANCY FARRELL, husband and wife, and JOHN DOES I-X, being persons and/or entities whose identities and liabilities are yet to be determined, Defendants. KENNETH EYER and SALLY EYER, husband and wife, Third Party Plaintiffs-Appellants,
IDAHO FOREST GROUP, LLC, Third Party Defendant-Respondent.
from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the
State of Idaho, Bonner County. Hon. Barbara A. Buchanan,
judgment of the district court is affirmed.
Bistline Law, PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, for appellants. Arthur
Malek PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, for respondent. Peter J.
and Sally Eyer appeal from the district court's award of
attorney fees to Idaho Forest Group, LLC (IFG). The Eyers and
IFG entered into a Log Purchase Agreement in which IFG agreed
to purchase timber harvested from the Eyers' land. Before
logging, IFG sent an agent to the Eyers' property to
assist them in locating property lines. When the logging
occurred, the loggers mistakenly cut timber located on
neighboring land. The neighbors sued the Eyers for timber
trespass and the Eyers brought a third-party action against
IFG for breach of an assumed duty to properly mark the
property lines. A jury found in favor of IFG, finding that
IFG had not assumed a duty to the Eyers. The district court
then awarded IFG $95, 608 in attorney fees pursuant to Idaho
Code section 12-120(3).
appeal, the Eyers contend the district court erred in
awarding fees under Idaho Code section 12-120(3), arguing (1)
the gravamen of the Eyers' complaint was not a commercial
transaction and (2) the Eyers did not sell timber for a
"commercial purpose" since they used the proceeds
of the sale to pay medical bills. We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
2009, the Eyers and IFG entered into a Log Purchase Agreement
in which IFG agreed to purchase cut timber from the Eyers. An
IFG representative, Jeff Berend, subsequently visited the
Eyers' property. Berend walked the property with the
Eyers' son-in-law, Tim Farrell, and contacted a forester
to survey the west line of the property. When the harvest
took place, the loggers inadvertently took trees from Russell
and Laura Stevens' property, located to the north of the
Eyers' property line.
Stevens sued the Eyers for timber trespass in 2012, alleging
that $1, 600 of timber was removed from their property and
seeking treble damages under Idaho Code section 6-202. The
Eyers subsequently filed a third-party complaint against IFG
for indemnification and, alternatively, contribution. The
district court dismissed the Eyers' claims against IFG on
summary judgment but granted the Eyers leave to file an
amended complaint that alleged a cause of action in
negligence. In their amended complaint, the Eyers alleged
that IFG assumed a duty to locate the property boundary
between the Eyers' and Stevens' property. The jury
found that IFG had not assumed this duty. The district court
entered judgment in IFG's favor on April 29, 2015.
IFG moved for an award of $95, 608 in attorney fees under
Idaho Code section 12-120(3). On July 13, 2015, the district
court issued its memorandum opinion on the motion and awarded
IFG the full amount of their requested attorney fees. An
amended judgment reflecting the award of attorney fees was
entered on July 13, 2015. The Eyers moved to alter or amend
the district court's award, arguing that there was no
commercial transaction because the Eyers were going to pay
medical bills with the proceeds of the timber
sale. The district court denied the Eyers'
motion in a decision dated August 7, 2015. The Eyers timely
STANDARD OF REVIEW
an action is based on a commercial transaction is a question
of law over which this Court exercises free
review." Idaho Transp. Dep't v. Ascorp,
Inc., 159 Idaho 138, 140, 357 P.3d 863, 865 (2015).
Idaho Code section 12-120(3) provides:
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
The term "commercial transaction" is defined to
mean all transactions except transactions for personal or
Eyers contend that the district court erred in awarding fees
under Idaho Code section 12-120(3), arguing (1) the gravamen
of the Eyers' complaint was not a commercial transaction
and (2) the Eyers did not sell timber for a commercial
purpose since they used the proceeds of the sale to pay
medical bills. These arguments are addressed in turn.
The district court did not err when it determined the
gravamen of the Eyers' lawsuit against IFG was a
a party can recover attorney fees under Idaho Code section
12-120(3) depends on whether the gravamen of a claim is a
commercial transaction. Sims v. Jacobson, 157 Idaho
980, 985, 342 P.3d 907, 912 (2015). "A gravamen is
'the material or significant part of a grievance or
complaint.' " Id. (quoting Merriam
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 509 (10th ed.1993)).
"[C]ourts analyze the gravamen claim by claim."
Id. "To determine whether the significant part
of a claim is a commercial transaction, the court must
analyze whether a commercial transaction (1) is integral to
the claim and (2) constitutes the basis of the party's
theory of recovery on that claim." Id.
its initial decision regarding attorney fees and its
subsequent decision denying the Eyers' motion to alter or
amend, the district court concluded that a commercial
transaction formed the gravamen of ...