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Medical Recovery Services, LLC v. Siler

Supreme Court of Idaho

April 28, 2017

MEDICAL RECOVERY SERVICES, LLC, an Idaho limited liability company, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
PENNY R. SILER, Defendant-Respondent.

         2017 Opinion No. 36

         Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Jefferson County. Hon. Robert L. Crowley, Jr., Magistrate Judge. Hon. Alan C. Stephens, District Judge.

         District court order affirming magistrate's denial of attorney fees, reversed and remanded.

          Smith, Driscoll & Associates, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for appellant. Bryan Zollinger argued.

          Thomsen Holman Wheiler, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for respondent. Ryan S. Dustin argued.

          BURDICK, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Medical Recovery Services, LLC (MRS) appeals the Jefferson County district court's order affirming the magistrate court's ruling denying MRS's application for an award of postjudgment attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-120(5). We reverse and remand.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Penny R. Siler visited Mountain View Hospital and incurred a bill of $518.80. Siler was unable to pay the bill, and Mountain View Hospital assigned the debt to MRS for collection. In November 2013, MRS sued Siler for recovery of the debt. Siler was served with the summons on November 18, 2013. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2013, MRS filed an application for entry of default judgment. On December 30, 2013, the court entered a default judgment in favor of MRS in the amount of $1, 170.93, which included attorney fees in the amount of $350.00.

         Following the default judgment, MRS attempted a garnishment of Siler's wages, which was returned unsatisfied because Siler, a school bus driver who cares for her disabled husband and makes an average of $499.00 a month, did not earn enough to garnish. Thereafter, MRS obtained an order for examination of debtor from the court, and counsel for MRS met with Siler on May 2, 2014. Based on Siler's circumstances, MRS agreed to accept $10.00 per month for payment on her judgment.

         Siler paid $10.00 per month until March 2015. On March 6, 2015, Siler contacted counsel for MRS and "asked what the payoff would be." Siler was told the payoff amount was $1, 224.88. Siler then went to MRS's counsel's office and, after again being told the payoff amount was $1, 224.88, paid that amount in cash. Six days later, counsel for MRS filed an application for supplemental attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-120(5). Counsel supported the application with an affidavit and time entries. The supplemental fees totaled $843.00, which included $114.00 for the "receipt and processing" of Siler's twelve $10.00 payments.

         Siler did not file an objection to the request for supplemental attorney fees but did attend the hearing. Following the hearing, the magistrate court issued an order denying MRS's application for supplemental attorney fees. In its order, the magistrate court, sua sponte, found that MRS was barred by quasi and equitable estoppel from asking for attorney fees because MRS had told Siler the "payoff amount" was $1, 224.88, and MRS did not inform Siler it planned to pursue additional postjudgment fees. MRS appealed the magistrate's decision to the district court.

         The district court affirmed, finding "the Magistrate Court retains discretion as to whether, or what amount of, attorney fees will be awarded, " and therefore was free to consider any factor it deemed appropriate, including quasi or equitable ...


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