dismissal with prejudice of this low-dollar collection action
was a final judgment. The defendant was the prevailing party
and was entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees
under RCW 4.84.250. The lower courts erred in concluding
Bay Adjustment Co. Inc., a debt collection agency, sued Caren
Dacumos in King County District Court in October 2014.
Elliott Bay alleged that Dacumos owed $482.84 to Seattle
Obstetrics and Gynecology Group, one of Elliott Bay's
to Dacumos, she immediately called Elliott Bay when she was
served with the summons and complaint and told them she had
already paid the bill in full. Elliott Bay told her she
needed to make payments in order to avoid having a judgment
entered against her, having her wages garnished, and owing
interest and attorney fees. Dacumos paid $50 per month for
five months before retaining counsel. In June 2015, Dacumos,
through counsel, filed an answer in which she requested
dismissal of the action and asserted her entitlement to an
award of attorney fees under RCW 4.84.250.
Bay moved for summary judgment in August 2015 while
simultaneously providing discovery requested by Dacumos.
Dacumos asked Elliott Bay to continue the hearing on summary
judgment or strike the motion to allow time to consult about
issues raised by Elliott Bay's discovery response. In a
letter to counsel for Dacumos, Elliott Bay insisted there
were no discovery issues and the hearing should proceed as
scheduled. Elliott Bay threatened to request
"significant" attorney fees given the
"extensive time" counsel had devoted to the matter.
Bay's motion for summary judgment was documented by a
patient account statement on which "all charges and
credits" were purportedly listed. Dacumos submitted a
response brief supported by a bank statement showing she had
made a payment of $541.10 that was not credited on the
patient account statement.
Bay learned from its client that the payment of $541.10 had
mistakenly been credited to another patient. Elliott Bay
struck its motion for summary judgment and moved for a
voluntary dismissal under CRLJ 41(a)(1)(H). Elliott Bay
proposed an order dismissing the action without prejudice and
asked the court to enter a dismissal with prejudice. At the
same time, she requested an award of attorney fees for having
to defend against vexatious litigation.
plaintiff moves for a voluntary dismissal, presumptively the
dismissal will be without prejudice to the plaintiffs right
to refile the action. The rule does not, however, guarantee
that the dismissal will be without prejudice. CRLJ 41(a)(4)
provides, "Unless otherwise stated in the order of
dismissal, the dismissal is without prejudice."
(Emphasis added.) By its terms, the rule allows the court, in
its discretion, to rule that a voluntary dismissal will be
with prejudice. Ordinarily, a court will enter a dismissal
with prejudice only if a dismissal without prejudice would be
pointless. See, e.g., Escude ex rel. Escude v.
King County Pub. Hosp. Dist. No. 2,, 117 Wn.App. 183, 69
P.3d 895 (2003); In re Det, of G.V., 124 Wn.2d 288,
297-98, 877 P.2d 680 (1994).
Bay filed a pleading admitting that the debt had been paid
and Dacumos was entitled to a refund of the amount she had
overpaid. The district court, recognizing that a dismissal
without prejudice would be pointless, entered a dismissal
with prejudice. But the order of dismissal denied
Dacumos's request for attorney fees.
next day, Dacumos filed a motion for an award of attorney
fees, citing RCW 4.84.250 as the basis for the award. Her
motion acknowledged that she had previously requested
attorney fees, unsuccessfully, under the court's inherent
power to penalize vexatious litigation. "However, now
that the case has been dismissed with prejudice, which
operates as a judgment on the merits, Plaintiff moves this
Court for attorney's fees under RCW 4.84.250." The
court's denial of this second request for attorney fees
is the subject of this appeal. Dacumos appealed to King
County Superior Court. The superior court affirmed. This
court's commissioner granted discretionary review on the
ground that the case raised an issue of public interest that
warranted review under RAP 2.3(d)(3).
appeal from a superior court order affirming a district court
order is governed by RALJ 9.1. We review the record before
the district court. Factual issues are reviewed for
substantial evidence, and legal issues are reviewed de novo.
State v. Moore, 178 Wn.App. 489, 497, 314 P.3d 1137
Bay attempts to have us analyze the lower court decisions as
if they involved factual issues, but they do not. Whether a
statute authorizes an award of attorney fees is a question of
law reviewed de novo. Niccum v. Enguist, 175 Wn.2d
441, 446, 286 P.3d 966 ...