Daily Decisions: Division 1 Limits Bases for Attorneys’ Fee Awards

Dallas and Marylou Bunney wanted to build a new home. Unfortunately for them, their plans called for a home that exceeded the height limit set by their homeowners associations (“HOAs”). But hey, you only live once. So the Bunneys figured, whatever, you only live once. They built the thing anyway.

The HOAs sued for violation of the HOA covenants. The trial court (1) enjoined the building of the Bunneys’ home and (2) awarded the HOAs their attorneys’ fees for the Bunneys’ prelitigation bad faith conduct. In Greenbank Beach and Boat Club, Inc. v. Dallas K. Bunney (Division 1, May 29, 2012), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s injunction, but reversed the award of attorneys’ fees. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Meritless Defamation Claim Results in Sanctions

Dee Ann Stiles used to be the Secretary for the Shore Woods Homeowners’ Association (“Association”). Gerald Kearney was a former member of the Association’s Executive Board (prior to Stiles’s tenure) and apparently he didn’t think Stiles was doing a very good job. Kearney wrote some “hostile” emails to the Board claiming that there were “inherent problems” with Stiles’s work on the Board and specifically stating that her meeting minutes were “written from the point of view of someone with an axe to grind” and telling Stiles, “Do your job even-handedly or step down.”

So of course, Stiles sued for defamation! Unfortunately (for her) the trial court concluded that she failed to offer any “credible or cognizable evidence” regarding (1) the falsity of Kearney’s statements, (2) whether the statements were privileged, or (3) her claimed damages. That’s no good. The court “concluded that the complaint was not well-grounded in fact or law and that Young [Stiles’s attorney] failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry before filing the complaint.” Accordingly, the trial court awarded sanctions against Stiles and Young under CR 11 and RCW 4.84.185.

Stiles appealed. The Court of Appeals, in Dee Ann Stiles v. Gerald Kearney (Division 2, February 29, 2012) (published May 22, 2012), affirmed the trial court in full. The Court of Appeals’ decision was initially unpublished, which likely explains why the Court’s analysis of the sanction issue is very superficial. Basically, the Court sets out the general legal standards, states that the trial court properly recognized those standards, and that the decision to impose sanctions based on a “well-written six-page memorandum opinion” was not an abuse of discretion. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Three Strikes, You’re Out (of Bases for Attorneys’ Fees)

Well, here we go again — another opinion with our friends from NYBA, Seattle Boat, Bridges, and Radovich. You’ll remember them from this morning’s post about quitclaim deeds and property disputes. In that opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision (on six separate grounds!) regarding the validity of the deed. In a companion opinion, Bridges Investment Group v. Radovich (Division 1, May 7, 2012), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Bridges, but reversed all three bases of the trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees to Bridges (from Radovich). Continue reading

Daily Decisions: Contract Madness!

I’m not ashamed to say it: I really like contracts. But I admit that I can’t really make heads or tails of Wright v. Dave Johnson Insurance Inc. (Division 2, February 22, 2012) (published April 25, 2012), a recently published contract case. Perhaps one of my three non-family readers could shed some light on this interesting and confusing case. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: When You Buy a Swamp, You’re Entitled to a Swamp

For some reason, this week included a rash of previously unpublished opinions getting published by the Courts of Appeals. What does that mean? It means more posts for you to read (and for me to write). So here goes.

Crystal Lotus Enterprises Ltd. v. City of Shoreline (Division 1, February 21, 2012) (published April 23, 2012), involves Crystal’s claims against the City for (1) trespass and (2) an unlawful taking. The trial court dismissed Crystal’s claims on summary judgment. Crystal appealed. Continue reading

Daily Decisions: A Case About an “Unsightly and Barren Goat Enclosure”

I don’t think there is much new to discuss regarding Gander v. Yeager (Division 2, April 10, 2012), but it does involve some neighbors arguing about goats. So that’s something. And the case may be of some interest on the topic of appellate review of fee awards. Maybe. Oh, and the Chutzpah Doctrine makes an appearance as well, so there’s that. But anyway, on with the case…

Back in 2005, there was a boundary dispute out in Bainbridge Island between (1) the Ridingses and (2) Malcolm Gander and Melanie Keenan. The Court refers to Gander and Keenan as Gander/Keenan “intending no disrespect.” I am going to refer to them as G/K, but I want to be clear that I don’t intend any disrespect either! The Ridingses and G/K settled their dispute pursuant to a written settlement agreement. The agreement provided that G/K shall not disparage the Ridingses and vice versa. Disputes regarding the agreement were subject to arbitration.

Four months after this settlement agreement, the Ridingses sold their property to Karen Keefe. Keefe then claimed that G/K began harassing her in violation of the agreement by, among other things, “operating ‘an unsightly and barren goat enclosure,’” “‘allowing the goats to bleat and cry for extended periods before feeding them,’” “putting goat waste along or very near the property line,” and “operating a chainsaw for extended lengths of time near Keefe’s home for no apparent purpose.” I hope that the chainsaw had nothing to do with the goats. Continue reading