Rice v. Grove Hill Homeowners' Ass'n, Inc., 2110884.

Decision Date14 December 2012
Docket Number2110884.
Citation113 So.3d 659
PartiesWilliam R. RICE III and Laura Rebecca Rice v. GROVE HILL HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC.
CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Kenneth Jay Mendelsohn and Barbara Hamlin Agricola of Jemison & Mendelsohn, P.C., Montgomery, for appellants.

Kimberly D. White of Akridge & Balch, P.C., Auburn, for appellee.

MOORE, Judge.

William R. Rice III and Laura Rebecca Rice appeal from a judgment of the Lee Circuit Court (“the trial court) awarding attorney fees and costs in the amount of $18,284.96 to the Grove Hill Homeowners' Association, Inc. (“the Association”). We affirm.

The parties have previously been before this court, first in Grove Hill Homeowners' Association, Inc. v. Rice, 43 So.3d 609 (Ala.Civ.App.2010) ( “Grove Hill I ”), in which this court reversed a judgment of the trial court, in which the trial court had concluded that a driveway on the Rices' property complied with their subdivision's restrictive covenants. This court held that the trial court had erred in finding that the Rices' driveway did not violate the subdivision's restrictive covenants, and we remanded the case for the trial court to consider whether the Association had carried its burden of proving the remaining elements necessary to obtain the permanent injunction it had requested. 43 So.3d at 615. Upon remand, the trial court entered a new judgment, again denying the Association the injunctive relief it had requested. The Association again appealed. See Grove Hill Homeowners' Association, Inc. v. Rice, 90 So.3d 731 (Ala.Civ.App.2011) (“Grove Hill II ”). In Grove Hill II, this court concluded that, because the Rices had had notice of the restrictive covenant that they breached, the Association was entitled to enforcement of that restrictive covenant and that the trial court had erred in declining to grant the permanent injunction requested by the Association; we reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the cause for the trial court to enter a judgment consistent with this court's opinion. 90 So.3d at 740–41.

On remand from this court, the Association filed a motion for the entry of a judgment enjoining the Rices from maintaining a driveway on their property that did not comply with the subdivision's restrictive covenants and requesting an award of $22,567.57 in costs and attorney fees. Attached to that motion was an itemized bill from the Association's attorney. On March 15, 2012, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the Association, enjoining the Rices from “installing, using, or maintaining any driveway” on their property that did not comply with the restrictive covenants of the subdivision; the judgment also stated, in pertinent part: “The Rices are granted leave to, on or before April 15, 2012, show cause why the Association's request for attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $22,567.57 should not be granted.” Also on March 15, 2012, the Association filed an amended motion to tax costs on appeal, attaching thereto an itemized and verified bill of costs. On April 16, 2012, the Rices filed a response to the order to show cause and an objection to the award of attorney fees. The Association filed a reply to that response on April 19, 2012.

On May 17, 2012, the trial court entered a judgment finding that the Rices “are obligated to pay the ... Association['s] reasonable attorney's fees and costs” and awarding the Association costs and attorney fees in the amount of $18,284.96. The Rices filed their notice of appeal to this court on June 15, 2012.

The Rices argue on appeal that the trial court exceeded its discretion by ordering them to pay the Association's attorney fees because, they say, the amount was unreasonable and no evidence was submitted to substantiate the amount.

[W]hile we have recognized that ‘the reasonableness of an award of attorney fees is within the discretion of the trial court, subject to correction only for an abuse of discretion,’ we have noted that when an appellate court reviews the award of an attorney fee we must be able to discern from the record what factors the trial court considered in determining the amount of attorney fees.’ Lanier v. Moore–Handley, Inc., 575 So.2d 83, 85 (Ala.1991), citing Van Schaack v. AmSouth Bank, N.A., [530 So.2d 740 (Ala.1988) ] (emphasis added).

We now turn to the question regarding the amount of attorney fees awarded. “The determination of whether an attorney fee is reasonable is within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of that discretion.” Ex parte Edwards, 601 So.2d 82, 85 (Ala.1992). Our deference to the trial court in attorney-fee cases is based upon our recognition that the trial court, which has presided over the entire litigation, has a superior understanding of the factual questions that must be resolved in fee determinations. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). Nevertheless, the trial court's order regarding an attorney fee must allow for meaningful review by articulating the decisions made, the reasons supporting those decisions, and the performance of the attorney-fee calculation. American Civil Liberties Union of Ga. v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 427 (11th Cir.1999); see also Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437, 103 S.Ct. 1933.’

City of Birmingham v. Horn, 810 So.2d 667, 681–82 (Ala.2001). See also Lolley v. Citizens Bank, 494 So.2d 19 (Ala.1986); Huntley v. Regions Bank, 807 So.2d 512 (Ala.2001); Ex parte Edwards, 591 So.2d 491, 493 (Ala.1990) (‘The trial court reduced the requested fee of $75,301.56 to $9,000.00. In doing so, the trial court made no findings of record as to why such a reduction was made. We are not in a position to determine if in fact the trial court abused its discretion in awarding a lesser fee than was requested without first knowing the court's reason for doing so.’).”

Beal Bank, SSB v. Schilleci, 896 So.2d 395, 404 (Ala.2004).

We note first that, upon remand, a different circuit-court judge was assigned to the case than had presided over the trial and had entered the previous judgments that had been appealed in this case. The judgment awarding the Association costs and attorney fees states, in pertinent part:

“Upon review of the materials submitted by the Homeowners' Association and analyzing the factors set forth in [ Peebles ] v. Miley, 43[9] So.2d 137 (Ala.1983), the Court awards costs and attorney's fees totalling Eighteen Thousand Two Hundred Eighty–Four and 96/100 Dollars ($18,284.96).”

The factors set forth in Peebles v. Miley, 439 So.2d 137 (Ala.1983), and referenced in the trial...

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    ...it deems right and proper under all the circumstances.' " Id. (quoting Ingalls, 96 So. 2d at 274). Seealso Rice v. Grove Hill Homeowners' Ass'n, Inc., 113 So.3d 659, 663 (Ala. Civ. App. 2012) ("The trial court may rely on its own knowledge and experience in determining the value of the lega......
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    ...and experience in determining the value of the legal services performed and in setting the fee," Rice v. Grove Hill Homeowners’ Ass'n, Inc., 113 So. 3d 659, 663 (Ala. Civ. App. 2012) (citing Spafford v. Crescent Credit Corp., 497 So. 2d 160, 162 (Ala. Civ. App. 1986) ), and that principle r......
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