In Target National Bank v. Higgins, the Court of Appeals concluded that the amount in controversy cannot be a basis for reducing requested attorney fees.
By Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski, family lawyers
This is not a family law case. Jeanette Higgins was sued by Target National Bank for defaulting on an alleged credit card debt. The amount in controversy was $2,052. The defendant denied the existence of the debt and warned Target that she would seek attorney fees.
The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Target failed to produce admissible evidence of the existence of the debt.
Higgins sought $11,021 in attorney fees. The trial court reduced the award to $5,625, based primarily upon the fact that the amount in controversy was just over $2,000.
The case contains an exhaustive review of the rules regarding awards of attorney’s fees, but the emphasis is on the small claims settlement statute. Ultimately the court concluded that the amount in controversy cannot be a basis for reducing requested attorney fees.
The court noted that the trial court’s task is to determine if any of the work addressed unsuccessful claims, or was wasteful, or was duplicative. However, the amount in controversy is not a basis that the trial court should have considered.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski practice family law in Olympia, Washington with the law firm of Connolly Tacon & Meserve.
A review of the attorney fees and court costs case The Ferguson Firm v. Teller & Associates that went through the Washington Court of Appeals.