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Standard Water Control Systems, Inc. v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

STANDARD WATER CONTROL SYSTEMS, INC., Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant-Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL D. JONES and CORI JONES, Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs-Appellants.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Lawrence P. McLellan, Judge.

         Defendants appeal the district court's grant of trial and appellate attorney fees to plaintiff on remand.

          John F. Fatino of Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellants.

          Jodie C. McDougal and Elizabeth R. Meyer of Davis Brown Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ. Blane, S.J., takes no part.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Michael and Cori Jones (the Joneses) appeal the district court's grant of trial and appellate attorney fees to Standard Water Control Systems, Inc. (Standard Water) on remand. We find the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding trial attorney fees or attorney fees for a previous appeal. We do not award any attorney fees for the present appeal. We affirm the decision of the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         On November 5, 2014, Standard Water obtained a judgment against the Joneses for $5400, plus interest of twelve percent, and costs and attorney fees, on its action for foreclosure of a mechanic's lien and breach of contract based on work Standard Water performed at the Joneses' home.[1] After a separate hearing, the district court entered an order on February 11, 2015, finding Standard Water was entitled to attorney fees of $43, 835.25, and costs of $559.04.

         The Joneses appealed the district court's decision. We affirmed the award of damages under the mechanic's lien. Standard Water Control Sys., Inc. v. Jones, 888 N.W.2d 673, 678 (Iowa Ct. App. 2016). In looking at the award of attorney fees, we looked at the factors found in Schaffer v. Frank Moyer Construction, Inc., 628 N.W.2d 11, 24 (Iowa 2001). Id. at 679. We stated:

In light of our consideration of the Schaffer factors, we are not persuaded the attorney fees award should stand. While recognizing that undue emphasis on the size of the judgment is improper, the fee award exceeded 800% of the underlying judgment. Cf. Paper's Lumber & Supply v. Schipper, No. 12-0103, 2013 WL 750410, at *5 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2013) (rejecting argument fee award "above a certain percentage of the underlying judgment is per se unreasonable, " but noting fee award was "just over forty percent of the underlying judgment"). In addition, the district court underemphasized the time necessarily spent on this matter given the limited amount at issue and the limited factual issue presented. We remand for additional fact-finding to determine an award consistent with the facts presented in this case and the Schaffer factors.

Id. The Joneses' request for further review was denied by the Iowa Supreme Court.

         A hearing was held on remand. The district court reviewed all of the billings submitted by legal counsel for Standard Water in which they had originally sought legal fees of $56, 014.25. The court made further reductions, finding some expenses should be reduced or eliminated, and concluded Standard Water was entitled to trial attorney fees of $41, 670.25. In addition, Standard Water sought appellate attorney fees of $29, 144. The court determined Standard Water was not entirely successful on appeal and reduced the appellate attorney fee award to $17, 283.44. In total, the court found the Joneses should pay $58, 953.69 for Standard Water's attorney fees.

         The Joneses filed a motion pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2), claiming Standard Water should only be entitled to those fees necessary to prove the mechanic's lien. They also filed a motion to reopen the record, stating a recent amendment to the mechanic's lien statute was relevant to the issue of attorney fees. The court ...


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