Award of Attorney’s Fees on Appeal Contested in Kingston, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: Nelson v. Justice

February 7, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the never-married parents of Child.

After the trial court entered a parenting schedule that restricted Father’s time and awarded Mother her attorney’s fees, Father appealed and lost. The Court of Appeals awarded Mother her attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

The case returned to the trial court to determine the amount of Mother’s reasonable attorney’s fees related to her appeal.

Mother sought an award of $150,000. Father raised various objections. Mother responded that Father’s litigious behavior increased her attorney’s fees exponentially. For but one example of many, Father named Mother’s counsel a “conspirator” in a federal lawsuit alleging fraud, extortion, and embezzlement.

The trial court found the appeal involved extraordinary circumstances, including that Father’s actions required that Mother’s attorney do more work than would’ve been otherwise necessary. The trial court found that Mother’s counsel “expended a great deal of time and labor on a complex case” that demanded unusual and cumbersome work.

Finding that Mother’s counsel’s billing records were “accurate, reasonable, and necessary,” the trial court awarded a judgment of $150,000 to Mother for her attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

A trial court’s determination of a reasonable attorney’s fee is a subjective judgment based on evidence and the judge’s experience in the case. Tennessee has no fixed mathematical rules for determining what a reasonable fee is. Therefore, the decision is a discretionary one that will be upheld unless the trial court abuses its discretion.

The Court found no abuse of discretion on these facts:

At trial, Father’s counsel was provided the opportunity to extensively cross-examine [Mother’s counsel] concerning her billing entries. In fact, many of the exhibits introduced at trial were documents placed in evidence by Father’s counsel in an attempt to demonstrate that [Mother’s counsel] spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing or drafting the documents in question. [Mother’s counsel] explained that in those instances, she had engaged in other associated work aside from simply reviewing or drafting the document, such as legal research, file review, discussing the issue with the client or co-counsel, and other related tasks. The trial court explicitly found [Mother’s counsel] to be a credible witness.

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The trial court credited [Mother’s counsel’s] testimony regarding the time she expended representing Mother on appeal. … The court also found that through her own testimony, her affidavits, and the testimony of her former assistant, [Mother’s counsel] had provided a “plethora of evidence detailing the unusual and cumbersome issues that she had to manage while working on this appeal.” As the court referenced, one such unusual circumstance was that [Mother’s counsel] and her staff were tasked with assembling the trial court record for transmission to this court [], an undertaking that spanned almost three weeks’ time. At the trial court noted, the record consisted of 50 volumes of technical record, 78 volumes of transcript, and 311 exhibits and offers of proof. The court further found that Father’s brief filed in the initial appeal was “not organized in a systemic manner that would allow a reasonable person under the circumstances to follow the 130 issues Father raised on appeal easily” and that Father’s citations to the record contained in his brief were often incorrect. As such, the court concluded that [Mother’s counsel] was “tasked with an unusually complex and difficult case, requiring extensive time and labor, not only in terms of research and writing, but organization, and at times, manual labor.

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Based on our thorough review of the record as a whole, the trial court’s findings regarding the RPC 1.5 factors are supported by a preponderance of the evidence. We therefore determine Father’s issues concerning the trial court’s factual findings and [Mother’s counsel’s] billing statements to be without merit.

While the trial court’s judgment was affirmed, the Court lowered the judgment to $123,000 to correct mathematical errors.

K.O.’s Comment: Father raised 130 issues in the first appeal?!? Yikes. 13 is too many. 10 is too many. Six is pushing it. 130 is crazy.

Nelson v. Justice (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, January 24, 2022).

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Award of Attorney’s Fees on Appeal Contested in Kingston, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: Nelson v. Justice was last modified: February 5th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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