Oral Argument: May 1, 2014.
Appeal from Thurston Superior Court. Docket No: 11-2-02554-1. Judge signing: Honorable Gary R Tabor . Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 07/16/2012.
Patrick Hollister, for petitioner.
Chad E. Ahrens (of Smith Alling PS ), for respondent.
Authored by Thomas R Bjorgen. Concurring: Bradley A. Maxa, J. Robin Hunt.
[183 Wn.App. 124] ¶ 1 --Lucena Carino appeals an award of reasonable attorney fees to the Filipino American League (League) based on a Thurston County District Court small claims default judgment against her. The League sued Carino for misappropriating funds during her presidency of the organization. Carino failed to appear, and the small claims department entered a default judgment against her. She unsuccessfully moved to vacate the default judgment, and the League unsuccessfully sought reasonable attorney fees for defending against her motion. Carino appealed the denial of her motion to vacate the default judgment to the superior court, and the League cross appealed the denial of [183 Wn.App. 125] fees. The superior court ultimately granted the League reasonable attorney fees for work on the appeal under RCW 4.84.290. Carino sought discretionary review by us, arguing that the League failed to comply with the prerequisites for invoking the fee-shifting scheme found in RCW 4.84.250-.290. The League, in its response, requested attorney fees for defending this review. We agree with Carino and reverse the superior court's grant of reasonable attorney fees to the League under RCW 4.84.290 and deny the League's request for reasonable attorney fees on discretionary review.
¶ 2 Carino served as the League's president and, after her tenure, the League sued her, claiming she had misappropriated funds during her tenure. The League's notice of small claim to Carino made no mention of seeking attorney fees, and the League never made an offer of settlement that might have alerted Carino to any intent to request fees.
¶ 3 The small claims department entered a default judgment against Carino when she did not answer the League's complaint and failed to appear at the hearing. The League [183 Wn.App. 126] then began garnishment proceedings against Carino to satisfy the default judgment.
¶ 4 Carino later moved in the district court to vacate the judgment against her under CRLJ 60(b). In its response, the League requested attorney fees and costs under RCW 6.27.230 for what it characterized as work completed in responding to Carino's controversion of its garnishment attempts. The district court denied both Carino's motion to vacate and the League's request for reasonable attorney fees, and both parties appealed to superior court.
¶ 5 In its cross appeal to superior court, the League again sought attorney fees under RCW 6.27.230, and for the first time, requested fees under RCW 12.40.105. The superior court rejected these requests, determining that the district court had properly exercised discretion in denying the League's request for attorney fees. However, the court stated,
I have issues that I want to explore further about whether or not [the denial of fees in the garnishment action] precludes an award of attorney's fees for this appeal, that is, to this court from the district court, and I want some time to look at that, and so I'm not ruling on that today. You may present, if you wish, what you think you're entitled to only for this appeal. I [183 Wn.App. 127] will consider that. If either side wishes to submit additional briefing on whether or not this Court can split the issues -- which is what I'm saying is something I'm contemplating. I've ruled that there will be no attorney's fees awarded for ...