H2O ENVIRONMENTAL, INC., an Idaho corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant,
FARM SUPPLY DISTRIBUTORS, INC., an Oregon corporation, Defendant-Respondent.
from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, Ada County, Hon. Gerald F. Schroeder,
Senior District Judge.
judgment of the district court is reversed and remanded with
Rainey Hudson, Boise, for Appellant.
Perkins, Mitchell, Pope & McAllister, LLP, Boise, for
Rebecca A. Rainey argued.
A. Mitchell argued.
underlying dispute in this case involves a commercial
transaction between H2O Environmental, Inc. (H2O) and Farm
Supply Distributors, Inc. (Farm Supply). Following a bench
trial before the magistrate court, H2O was awarded $7, 354.64
for Farm Supply's breach of an express oral contract. The
magistrate court subsequently awarded attorney's fees to
H2O pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-120(3), but limited its
award to the amount in controversy. H2O appealed to the
district court, claiming that the magistrate court abused its
discretion. The district court affirmed and awarded
attorney's fees to Farm Supply. H2O timely appealed. We
reverse and remand with instructions.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Supply employed H2O to clean up a fuel spill at a gas station
in Boise in July of 2014. H2O billed Farm Supply $45, 828.19
for the work performed. Farm Supply paid $38, 473.55, leaving
a balance due of $7, 354.64. H2O filed suit to recover the
disputed amount. Farm Supply disputed whether a contract had
been formed between H2O and Farm Supply and whether H2O's
charges were reasonable. Near the end of the trial, H2O
inquired: "Should we talk about a schedule for
submitting things to [the magistrate court] in the way of
closing?" The magistrate court stated in response:
"The only reason I'm hesitating is because
you've already spent so many hours on this case that, as
I indicated, it's going to be hard for me to think
there's reasonableness on the attorney fees over $7,
prevailed at trial. The magistrate court awarded H2O the
disputed amount of $7, 354.64 and pre-judgment interest of
$597.32. H2O subsequently filed a memorandum of costs and
fees in support of its request for an award of $55, 924.46.
Attorney's fees accounted for $53, 403.50 of this sum.
Farm Supply opposed H2O's request for costs and fees. The
magistrate court addressed the issue of costs and fees in
June of 2016. The magistrate court held that H2O was the
prevailing party in the litigation. The magistrate court then
What I don't find is that it needed all that time and all
the attorney's fees that [H2O] requested.
And I think [Farm Supply] did a very good job of going
through all the factors that I, as a judge, am supposed to
look at in terms of determining what are reasonable fees. And
I agree, this was not a hard factual case. . . . It was not a
hard legal case. I mean, you had some legal arguments, but .
. . this was not about some remote legal theor[ies]. It was
the facts and putting them on.
And thus, I am going to basically adopt [Farm Supply's]
memo on terms of attorney's fees and I will award some
fees. I will award the amount in dispute. And I will award
the mandatory costs, but I am not going to award more.
. . . .
And I think as I said before, I feel-I regret that somehow I
was not more helpful in getting this resolved. I sort of feel
like I have a bit of a record of doing that, of getting cases
resolved before they go to trial. And in my court they
don't turn into attorney fees cases. You were a rare one
that did. But I do not find a basis to award more than what
was in dispute. And if [Farm Supply] will prepare me an order
along those lines, I will sign it.
appealed to the district court asserting that the magistrate
court abused its discretion by limiting the award of
attorney's fees to the amount in controversy. The
district court held that the magistrate court had not
predetermined the amount of attorney's fees it would
award, noting that the magistrate court considered all of the
factors required under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure
54(e)(3). Thus, the district court affirmed the magistrate
court's award of attorney's fees. The district court
then awarded Farm Supply its attorney's fees on appeal
pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-120(3). H2O timely
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the decision of a district court sitting in its
capacity as an appellate court:
The Supreme Court reviews the trial court (magistrate) record
to determine whether there is substantial and competent
evidence to support the magistrate's findings of fact and
whether the magistrate's conclusions of law follow from
those findings. If those findings are so supported and the
conclusions follow therefrom and if the district court
affirmed the magistrate's decision, we affirm the
district court's decision as a matter of procedure.
Bailey v. Bailey, 153 Idaho 526, 529, 284 P.3d 970,
973 (2012) (quoting Losser v. Bradstreet, 145 Idaho
670, 672, 183 P.3d 758, 760 (2008)).
amount of attorney's fees to be awarded is a decision
committed to the discretion of the trial court. Id.
As we recently clarified, an alleged abuse of discretion is
reviewed under a four-part test:
Whether the trial court: (1) correctly perceived the issue as
one of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of
its discretion; (3) acted consistently with the legal
standards applicable to the specific choices available to ...