Effort to appeal legal fees awarded in eviction case falls short

By David Hutton | May 30, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (Legal Newsline) – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a lower court’s post-judgment order awarding a woman $8,000 in legal fees, far below the $60,000 she had requested.

Teresa Sands had filed a lawsuit against Donald E. Thomas, alleging illegal eviction and wrongful use of civil proceedings.

In awarding attorney fees of $8,000, the lower court pointed out that Sands’ claim for illegal eviction was “uncomplicated” and based on “straightforward and almost completely undisputed” facts.

According to a May 18 opinion, the court also pointed out that the efforts required in the case were increased by claims by Sands for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and a request for an award of punitive damages.

This, according to the court, “greatly expanded the volume and complexity of the body of relevant facts and increased the likelihood of trial and lengthened the trial itself.” 

Sands did not include a transcript with the appeal, leading to court to assume the record would support that finding.

Moreover, Sands contends the court didn’t fully explain the award of $8,000, compared to some other amount up to the $60,000 requested.

While Sands filed a motion for additional findings of fact, she did not propose findings about the specific number of hours that an attorney would reasonably work on the case and on the illegal eviction claim in particular.

In the complaint, Sands raised five substantive claims and prevailed on only two. The court ruled that only the claim for illegal eviction could support an award of attorney fees.

“Although Sands argues that her non-fee claims arose from the illegal eviction and that she was therefore entitled to an award that reflected her attorneys’ cumulative effort on the case, we have never held that a court is required to issue a cumulative award for both fee and non-fee claims when those claims are factually linked,” the court wrote in its decision.  

According to the court, the claims didn’t have to be factually related. It sided with the lower court’s finding that there was a difference in complexity between the fee and non-fee claims. 

Citing Advanced Construction Corp. v. Pilecki, a 2006 case, the court ruled that the lower court did not apply an improper legal standard in evaluating Sands’ request for attorney fees. 

“The court’s ultimate fee award of $8,000 does not reflect any abuse of discretion,” it wrote in affirming the judgment.

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