383 P.3d 1277 (Idaho 2016), 42596, Smith v. Treasure Valley Seed Company, LLC

Docket Nº42596
Citation383 P.3d 1277, 161 Idaho 107
Opinion JudgeBURDICK, Justice
Party NameVICTORIA H. SMITH, by and through her attorney in fact, Vernon K. Smith, by and through his Durable and Irrevocable Power of Attorney, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross Respondent, v. TREASURE VALLEY SEED COMPANY, LLC, and DON TOLMIE, in his individual capacity, and as owner, representative and authorized agent of Treasure Valley Seed Co., LLC, ...
AttorneyLaw Office of Vernon K. Smith, Boise, for appellant. Vernon K. Smith argued. Eismann Law Offices, Nampa, for respondents. Ryan L. Martinat argued.
Judge PanelBURDICK, Justice. Chief Justice J. JONES and Justice HORTON CONCUR. Justice W. JONES, dissenting. KIDWELL, Justice Pro tem, concurs. Chief Justice J. JONES and Justice HORTON CONCUR. Justice W. JONES, dissenting: KIDWELL, Justice Pro tem, concurs.
Case DateNovember 03, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Idaho

Page 1277

383 P.3d 1277 (Idaho 2016)

161 Idaho 107

VICTORIA H. SMITH, by and through her attorney in fact, Vernon K. Smith, by and through his Durable and Irrevocable Power of Attorney, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross Respondent,

v.

TREASURE VALLEY SEED COMPANY, LLC, and DON TOLMIE, in his individual capacity, and as owner, representative and authorized agent of Treasure Valley Seed Co., LLC, Defendants-Respondents-Cross Appellants

42596

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 3, 2016

2016 Opinion No. 128

Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Richard D. Greenwood, District Judge.

District court award of attorney fees, vacated and remanded.

Law Office of Vernon K. Smith, Boise, for appellant. Vernon K. Smith argued.

Eismann Law Offices, Nampa, for respondents. Ryan L. Martinat argued.

BURDICK, Justice. Chief Justice J. JONES and Justice HORTON CONCUR. Justice W. JONES, dissenting. KIDWELL, Justice Pro tem, concurs.

OPINION

Page 1278

BURDICK, Justice

Vernon K. Smith appeals the district court's award of attorney fees to Treasure Valley Seed Company, LLC and its owner Don Tolmie (collectively TVSC). Because we conclude the district court erred in fashioning the award of attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121, we vacate and remand.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case arises from a contract for the sale of lima beans between Victoria H. Smith and TVSC. On December 13, 2013, Victoria's son, Vernon K. Smith, filed a complaint against TVSC. The complaint alleged claims for breach of the lima beans contract. As plaintiff, the complaint named " VICTORIA H. SMITH, by and through her attorney in

Page 1279

fact, Vernon K. Smith, by and through his Durable and Irrevocable Power of Attorney."

On March 3, 2014, TVSC learned Victoria had died on September 11, 2013--roughly three months before the complaint was filed. TVSC then moved to dismiss the complaint, contending there was no real party in interest. Vernon responded and argued he was the real party in interest because of his durable and irrevocable power of attorney. The district court concluded Vernon's power of attorney had terminated at Victoria's death. Further, the district court reasoned that because no personal representative had been appointed through probate, there was no real party in interest. Accordingly, the district court granted TVSC's motion to dismiss.

TVSC filed a timely memorandum of costs and requested attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-120(3), Idaho Code section 12-121, and Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 11(a)(1). At the hearing, the district court reiterated that it granted TVSC's motion to dismiss because Vernon's power of attorney had terminated at Victoria's death. The district court further reiterated that Victoria's estate should have brought the action, but because no probate had been filed, there was no real party in interest to substitute or join. Although the district court indicated the case was not necessarily frivolous and may present " a genuine dispute of some variety," the district court found that the complaint was unreasonable and without foundation. Thus, the district court awarded attorney fees to TVSC under Idaho Code section 12-121. The district court assessed the attorney fees jointly and severally against Victoria and Vernon, as counsel.

Initially, Vernon sought to appeal both the dismissal of the case and the award of attorney fees, but his appeal of the dismissal of the case was not timely filed. We therefore address only Vernon's appeal of the award of attorney fees.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Is there a real party in interest for this appeal?

2. Did the district court err in fashioning the award of attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121?

3. Is TVSC entitled to attorney fees on appeal?

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

" An award of attorney fees pursuant to I.C. § 12-121 and I.R.C.P. 54(e)(1) will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion." Idaho Military Historical Soc'y, Inc. v. Maslen, 156 Idaho 624, 629, 329 P.3d 1072, 1077 (2013). However, " the application of [a] procedural rule is a question of law on which we exercise free review." Zenner v. Holcomb, 147 Idaho 444, 450, 210 P.3d 552, 558 (2009).

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Is there a real party in interest for this appeal?

We address as a preliminary matter whether there is a real party in interest for this appeal. TVSC contends this appeal should be dismissed because Victoria is deceased, and consequently, there is no real party in interest for this appeal. We disagree.

On the one hand, TVSC correctly argues there is no real party in interest to appeal the dismissal of the case. Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a) requires that actions be prosecuted in " the name of the real party in interest." An exception permits " a party authorized by statute" to sue in that capacity without joining the real party interest. I.R.C.P. 17(a)(1)(H). Vernon contends he is authorized to sue on Victoria's behalf, citing his power of attorney. We are not persuaded. A power of attorney terminates once the principal dies.1 I.C. § 15-12-110(1)(a). Vernon's power of attorney, therefore, terminated at Victoria's death--roughly three months

Page 1280

before the complaint was filed. Even if Vernon had timely appealed the dismissal of the case, there would be no real party in interest for that issue.

On the other hand, TVSC incorrectly argues Victoria's death affects whether there is a real party in interest to appeal the award of attorney fees. Idaho Appellate Rule 4 allows a " party aggrieved" by a judgment to file an appeal. We have long defined a party aggrieved " as any person injuriously affected by the judgment." Roosma v. Moots, 62 Idaho 450, 455, 112 P.2d 1000, 1002 (1941) (citing In re Blades, 59 Idaho 682, 684, 86 P.2d 737, 738 (1939)). Because the district court assessed attorney fees jointly and severally against Victoria and Vernon, Vernon is an aggrieved party entitled to appeal the award of attorney fees. We conclude there is a real party in interest for this appeal.

Our dissenting colleagues maintain that dismissal is proper because the Notice of Appeal is insufficient under Idaho Appellate Rule 17. That rule requires a notice of appeal to " contain substantially" the information designated therein, including the appellant's identity. I.A.R. 17(d). The dissent notes that the Notice of Appeal does not identify Vernon as appellant, but rather states Victoria H. Smith, " acting through Vernon K. Smith, at the time the cause of action arose, through his Durable and Irrevocable Power of Attorney, does appeal against the above-named respondents to the Idaho Supreme Court from that Judgment awarding attorney fees and costs in the above entitled action, as entered on August 28, 2014 . . . ." According to the dissent, the Notice of Appeal is insufficient because TVSC " had no way of knowing that [Vernon] was appealing on his own behalf."

We disagree. As the dissent acknowledges, Idaho Appellate Rule 17 requires only substantial compliance. " Generally, substantial compliance does not require absolute conformity with the form prescribed in the statute, but does require a good faith attempt to comply, and that the general purpose detailed in the statute is accomplished." In re Doe, 155 Idaho 896, 901, 318 P.3d 886, 891 (2014) (citation omitted). In this case, we conclude the Notice of Appeal substantially complies with Idaho Appellate Rule 17 because it identifies the parties and the attorney involved, and the issue raised. The Notice of Appeal clearly states one issue is raised: " Was the award of attorney fees and costs, as entered by the court, supported in fact, and law under the Statutes and Rules of Procedure in Idaho." Contrary to the dissent's position, the Notice of Appeal is sufficient because it represents a good faith attempt to comply with Idaho Appellate Rule 17 and, therefore, accomplishes the purposes of the rule--putting TVSC on notice of the issues raised on appeal.

Because we conclude there is a real party in interest and the Notice of Appeal is sufficient, this appeal is not subject to dismissal.

B. Did the district court err in fashioning the award of attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121?

We next address the district court's award of attorney fees. We begin by deciding whether the district court erred by awarding attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121 without making written findings, as required under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54(e)(2). " We have, in the past, applied rules of...

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