Rock, a party to an arbitration proceeding, appeals the
superior court's denial of an award of reasonable
attorney fees and costs pursuant to RCW 7.04A.250 in the
superior court proceeding to confirm the arbitration award.
We hold that the trial court abused its discretion when
denying Mainline Rock's application for fees because the
trial court misread the law and failed to exercise its
discretion under the statute.
Rock & Ballast, Inc. (Mainline Rock) develops and
operates rock quarries to extract, crush, and sell ballast, a
rock material used as the footing or base for railroad
tracks. Between 2004 and 2017, Mainline Rock owned and
operated a rock quarry in Torrance County, New Mexico, near
Encino. Mainline Rock intended to sell ballast from the
Torrance site to BNSF Railway.
Inc. (Barnes) works as a drilling and blasting contractor. In
2008, Barnes and Mainline Rock entered a master blasting
agreement, under which Barnes would perform blasting services
for maintenance at numerous locations, including the Torrance
County site. Pursuant to the parties' agreement, Mainline
Rock would pay Barnes for blasted rock materials when
Mainline sold the rock to a third party. Individual work
orders would determine the rate of payment. The master
blasting agreement included an arbitration clause. Paragraph
29 of the master blasting agreement declared:
29. Attorney Fees: If any action at law or
in equity (including arbitration) is necessary to enforce or
interpret the terms of this Agreement, the prevailing party
shall be entitled to reasonable attorney fees, court costs
and out-of-pocket costs, in addition to any other relief to
which the party may be entitled. The provisions of this
section shall survive the termination or expiration of this
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 29.
1, 2016, Mainline Rock and Barnes entered into a work order
authorization amendment for blasting work at the Torrance
location. On April 7, 2017, Mainline sold the assets of the
Torrance operation site to Vulcan Materials Corporation. The
purchase included all stockpiled commercially sellable
aggregate inventory. Mainline Rock then became liable to
Barnes for work performed. The parties could not agree to the
sum owed Barnes.
of the parties' differences, they entered arbitration
pursuant to the master blasting agreement. The arbitration
occurred in Spokane before a three-person arbitration panel.
A majority of the panel determined that Barnes was entitled
to a payment higher than the amount tendered by Mainline Rock
but lesser than the amount Barnes requested. Both parties
sought an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs, under
the master blasting agreement, as the prevailing party. The
panel ruled that, since it did not accept either party's
position, neither party prevailed. The panel denied each
party an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs.
pursuant to RCW 7.04A.230(1)(d), filed a motion with the
superior court to vacate the arbitration award. In return,
Mainline Rock, pursuant to RCW 7.04A.230(4), filed a motion
to confirm the award. The trial court denied Barnes'
motion to vacate and granted Mainline Rock's motion to
Mainline Rock, pursuant to RCW 7.04A.250, filed a motion for
an award of reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses
incurred in the superior court proceeding. The trial court
denied Mainline Rock's application for fees and costs.
The order reads:
Both parties cross moved the court for: orders granting
attornies [sic] fees. The parties requested that the court
rule on the pleadings ...