WA Legal Roundup - Washington State Supreme Court
Why, oh why, would the supreme court do this to me? A boring case this early on a day when I'd rather be working on a brief?
So basically party A needs access over a lot owned by B. B says, "Well, its not really a necessity, because you could also have asked for access over the lot owned by C." A decides to join C.
The trial court had party B pay the attorneys fees of party C, who was brought in wrongfully by A. Under a private condemnation action, party A has to pay the fees of party B (its only fair, you brought them in to take their land). The trial court reduced the award of attorneys fees paid to B by A by 70%, finding the bulk of attorneys fees incurred by B were in litigating against C.
So the analysis then. I suppose I should get to that. Not like we ever really did analysis in property class. We discussed feudalism a lot. I remember that much. At least there's a statute though, that saves me some reasoning. Did I mention I hate property?
Anyhow, RCW 8.24.025 says that the judge must consider alternative routes. It also allows the court to award attorneys fees to the condemnee, but does not require it. Any award of fees is thus reviewed for abuse of discretion. Now, the statute on condemnation required the judge to consider alternative routes, but not necessarily to join the party owning the alternative route. C's involvement in the action was a result of A.
Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's order awarding attorney fees to Tillicum against Safe Harbor, including those awarded to Tillicum on appeal. As to the second issue in this case, we affirm the trial court's order reducing Safe Harbor's attorney fees award against the Nobles. Under RCW 8.24.030, the trial court has discretion to determine what amount, if any, a condemnee receives in attorney fees from a condemnor. In doing so, a trial court may consider a condemnee's actions in light of the particular circumstances of each case. Here, the trial judge considered Safe Harbor's actions during the course of the case to increase the cost of litigation. In attempting to "balance the equities," the trial court concluded that Safe Harbor's award against the Nobles should be lessened by 70 percent. This is an appropriate exercise of the trial court's discretion.
Now here's the part I don't get, and don't agree with. The trial court found that the increase in Safe Harbor's fees (party B) was a result of litigation against Tillicum (party C), who was brought in by Nobles (party A). Seems to me Safe Harbor should be entitled to a full award here given the equities. Or at the very least, given the partial reversal, a redo as to the judge's logic so he can consider said fees in lieu of the holding.
The dissent would argue that the focus should not be on joinder when none is necessary, but rather the pragmatics of litigation (i.e. - B asserts a defense that C's route is better, pragmatically forcing A to join C).