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Moreau v. Samalin

Court of Appeals of Oregon

January 3, 2019

Sandra MOREAU, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Dana SAMALIN, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued and submitted March 13, 2018

          Klamath County Circuit Court 15LT09090; A163289 Dan Bunch, Judge.

          Nathan J. Ratliff argued the cause for appellant. Also on the brief was Parks & Ratliff, P. C.

          No appearance for respondent.

          Before Hadlock, Presiding Judge, and Aoyagi, Judge, and Linder, Senior Judge.

         Case Summary:

         After prevailing in a landlord-tenant action, plaintiff requested a discretionary attorney fee award of $7, 018.75, and the trial court awarded her $2, 000 in attorney fees. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court abused its discretion in setting the award at that amount. She requests that the Court of Appeals remand with instructions to award plaintiff the full amount requested. Defendant has not appeared on appeal.

         Held:

         The trial court did not provide a sufficient explanation of its reasons for awarding $2, 000 in attorney fees to allow for meaningful appellate review. Because the Court of Appeals could not determine on this record whether or not the trial court acted within its discretion in setting the amount of the fee award, the Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court to provide an adequate explanation for meaningful appellate review, which may include findings.

         Vacated and remanded.

         [295 Or.App. 535] AOYAGI, J.

         This is an appeal from a supplemental judgment in a landlord-tenant action, awarding $2, 000 in attorney fees to plaintiff as the prevailing party. In her sole assignment of error, plaintiff, who requested just over $7, 000 in attorney fees, contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded her only $2, 000 in attorney fees. Defendant has not appeared on appeal. Because we do not have sufficient information about the trial court's reasons for awarding the amount that it did to conduct meaningful appellate review, we vacate the supplemental judgment and remand to the trial court. In doing so, we conclude that plaintiff adequately preserved the alleged substantive error and was not required to request special findings under ORCP 68 C to do so.

         The relevant facts are minimal and undisputed for purposes of appeal. Plaintiff agreed to rent a residence from defendant but, upon moving in, discovered that the residence was uninhabitable and moved out. Plaintiff later filed this action, alleging that defendant had breached her statutory obligations as a landlord and had failed to return or account for plaintiff's security deposit. The trial court entered a default order against defendant. It then entered a general judgment in plaintiff's favor for $3, 600, plus attorney fees and costs to be determined by supplemental judgment. At that time, plaintiff filed a statement in which she requested $3, 054 in attorney fees. Plaintiff also requested costs, but the cost award is not at issue so we do not discuss it.

         Soon thereafter, defendant appeared in the action for the first time and filed a series of motions, including two motions for relief from judgment and a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied all of defendant's motions. Thereafter, plaintiff filed an amended attorney fee statement. She requested $7, 018.75 in incurred fees, which included both her previously requested fees and her fees to oppose defendant's motions.

         Defendant filed written "objections" to the trial court's rulings on her post-judgment motions. Defendant, who had not objected to plaintiff's original fee statement, [295 Or.App. 536] concluded that filing with a one-sentence objection to plaintiff's amended fee request: "In addition, Defendant strenuously objects to Plaintiff's attorney fees as excessive and being taken without authority or authorization."

         In response to defendant's objection, plaintiff argued that her requested fees were reasonable given the factors applicable to discretionary fee awards under ORS 20.075. Plaintiff also submitted a declaration from an experienced local attorney regarding the reasonableness of the fees. In reply, defendant argued that the amount requested was excessive, this time providing some explanation for that position. Plaintiff filed a surreply, reiterating the legal and factual bases for her fee request.

         Neither party requested a hearing on the attorney fee matter, and none was held. The trial court issued a letter opinion that stated in its entirety: "The Court hereby awards attorney fees in the amount of $2, 000.00. [Plaintiff's attorney] shall include the amount ...


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