IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF: RUTH BIRCH, DECEASED.
BRUCE H. BIRCH, Respondent-Appellant. LINDA BAILEY, Personal Representative, Petitioner-Respondent,
from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, Bonneville County, Hon. Bruce L. Pickett,
Law Office, Payette, for Appellant. Michael D. Moscrip
Driscoll & Associates, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for Respondent.
B.J. Driscoll argued.
Birch appeals the decision of the district court affirming a
decision of the magistrate court to award attorney fees
against Birch. The magistrate court awarded attorney fees to
Linda Bailey, the personal representative of the estate of
Ruth Birch. In this appeal, Birch argues that the magistrate
court's award of attorney fees was an abuse of discretion
because it did not comply with the requirements of the Idaho
Rules of Civil Procedure. We reverse the decision of the
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
case concerns the disposition of the estate of Birch and
Bailey's mother, Ruth Birch. Ruth executed a last will
and testament that intentionally omitted Birch. After
Ruth's death in 2011, Bailey was appointed as the
personal representative for her estate. In 2012, the
magistrate court approved a compromise agreement that allowed
Birch and another intentionally omitted sibling to receive
equal shares of the estate.
approval of the compromise agreement, Bailey requested that
Birch pay the estate's attorney fees for preparing the
agreement. Birch objected, filed a motion to remove Bailey as
the personal representative, and filed several other motions.
On August 18, 2016, the magistrate court granted Bailey's
request for attorney fees against Birch on equitable grounds
"[i]n light of the multiple unsuccessful attempts by
[Birch] in his repeated challenges . . . ." This first
award of attorney fees in the amount of $10, 314.50 was
assessed against Birch's interest in the estate. On March
23, 2017, the magistrate court entered a supplemental order
in which it acknowledged that it did not have the equitable
power to assess fees, and instead cited Idaho Code section
15-3-720 as the basis for the award of fees.
September 2016, Bailey filed a memorandum of attorney fees
and costs claiming entitlement to a second award of attorney
fees and costs against Birch in the sum of $10, 665.85. Birch
did not object to this memorandum. On October 20, 2016, the
magistrate court entered the Estate Closing Order and Decree
of Distribution (the Closing Order) which awarded the
requested fees and costs. The Closing Order approved an
attached Schedule of Final Distributions. Although styled as
a schedule of "distributions," the schedule
required Birch to pay $8, 621.96 in attorney fees and costs
in equal payments of $4, 310.98 to his sisters, Bailey and
Cheryl Simmons. The Closing Order does not identify a
prevailing party, nor does it identify a statutory or
contractual basis for the award of fees. The Closing Order
contains no written findings regarding the merit of
Birch's challenges and is silent as to whether the
magistrate court considered the Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure
54(e)(3) factors when awarding attorney fees.
appeal to the district court, Birch challenged both awards of
attorney fees. As to the first award, the district court held
that the magistrate court did not have the equitable power to
assess the fees against Birch and the statutory ground
subsequently identified by the magistrate court was not
applicable. Therefore, the district court reversed the
magistrate court's first award of attorney fees. Neither
party challenges this decision.
the second award, the district court ruled that Birch had
waived any challenge to the second award of attorney fees by
failing to object to Bailey's memorandum of costs and
fees within fourteen days as required by Idaho Rule of Civil
Procedure 54(d)(5). Birch timely appealed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When this Court reviews the decision of a district court
sitting in its capacity as an appellate court, the standard
of review is as follows: "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 ...