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Northern Nevada Homes, LLC v. GL Construction, Inc.

Supreme Court of Nevada

August 2, 2018

NORTHERN NEVADA HOMES, LLC, A NEVADA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
GL CONSTRUCTION, INC., A NEVADA CORPORATION, Respondent.

          Appeal from an order awarding attorney fees and costs. Second Judicial District Court, Washoe County; Lidia Stiglich, Judge.

          Rusby Clark, PLLC, and Christopher M. Rusby, Reno, for Appellant.

          Law Office of James Shields Beasley and James Shields Beasley, Reno, for Respondent.

          BEFORE CHERRY and PARRAGUIRRE, JJ., and SAITTA, Sr. J. [1]

          OPINION

          CHERRY, J.

         In this appeal, we consider a district court's award of attorney fees and costs to defendant GL Construction, Inc. (GL) on its counterclaim against plaintiff Northern Nevada Homes, LLC (NNH). The question presented is whether the district court properly determined GL to be the "prevailing party" following bifurcated trials, in which the parties settled as to damages on NNH's claims in an amount that exceeds GL's damages judgment on its counterclaim. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion with regard to the award of attorney fees and costs for two reasons. First, we note that no statute or court rule requires the trial court to offset a damages judgment on one party's counterclaim by the amount recovered by another party in settling its claim to determine which side is the prevailing party. Second, we conclude that the most reasonable interpretation of NRS 18.010(2)(a) and 18.020(3) precludes the use of settlement recovery for this purpose.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         NNH and Cerberus Holdings, LLC, filed a complaint against Gordon Lemich and his company, GL.[2] NNH alleged that GL and Lemich trespassed on its property by dumping dirt and other waste. GL later filed a counterclaim against NNH for breach of contract regarding unpaid invoices for construction work it had performed on separate projects. The district court bifurcated the case into a jury trial concerning NNH's claims against GL and Lemich, and a bench trial concerning GL's counterclaim against NNH. On day three of the jury trial, the district court indicated it was inclined to enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of NNH as to liability on its tort-based claims, and shortly thereafter, the parties settled NNH's claims for $362, 500. After the bench trial on GL's counterclaim, the district court found in favor of GL, awarding $7, 811 in damages.

         GL then moved for $67, 595 in attorney fees and $2, 497.33 in costs. NNH opposed, arguing in part that GL was not the prevailing party under NRS 18.010 and 18.020 because NNH obtained a net recovery from the settlement. The district court awarded GL $10, 000 in attorney fees and $390 in costs, finding that (1) GL was a prevailing party within the meaning of NRS 18.010 and 18.020 with respect to its counterclaim; (2) the settlement amount was not relevant to the prevailing party determination because the facts underlying the counterclaim were largely unrelated to NNH's claim; and (3) $10, 000 was a reasonable amount for attorney fees[3]and $390 in costs was appropriate as NNH did not dispute them.

         DISCUSSION

         Standard of review

         "An award of attorney fees is reviewed for an abuse of discretion." MB Am., Inc. v. Alaska Pac. Leasing, 132 Nev. 78, 88, 367 P.3d 1286, 1292 (2016). A decision made "in clear disregard of the guiding legal principles can be an abuse of discretion." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Questions of law and statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. Albios v. Horizon Cmtys., Inc., 122 Nev. 409, 417, 132 P.3d 1022, 1028 (2006); Smith v. Crown Fin. Servs. of Am., Ill Nev. 277, 284, 890 P.2d 769, 773 (1995). As to statutory interpretation, if the plain language of a statute is ambiguous, "it is the duty of this court to select the construction that will best give effect to the intent of the legislature." Smith, 111 Nev. at 284, 890 P.2d at 773-74. Attorney fees and costs under NRS 18.010 and NRS 18.020

         NNH argues that the district court abused its discretion by determining that GL was the prevailing party under NRS 18.010(2)(a) and 18.020(3), because NNH received the net monetary recovery in this case when the parties' recoveries were offset under Parodi v. Budetti, ...


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