Recently Decided Cases – Civil

Donovan v. Hastings (Failure to State a Claim and Claim for Attorney’s Fees)

Style: Mindy Donovan v. Joshua R. Hastings

TSC Docket Number: M2019-01396-SC-R11-CV

Date of TSC Opinion:  June 27, 2022

Opinion of the TSC:  Click here.

TSC Summary of the Opinion:

We granted permission to appeal in this case to consider awards of attorney fees and costs
after dismissal of a claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-119(c). The plaintiff homeowner entered into a contract with the defendant contractor. The homeowner sued the contractor, and the contractor filed a countercomplaint alleging breach of contract. After his motion to amend was granted, the contractor filed an amended countercomplaint asserting the same breach of contract claim with revised damages. The trial court later granted the homeowner’s motion to dismiss the countercomplaint for failure to state a claim. The homeowner then sought attorney fees and costs pursuant to Tennessee Code
Annotated § 20-12-119(c). The trial court granted the motion but excluded fees and costs incurred prior to the date the amended countercomplaint was filed. After the homeowner appealed the amount of attorney fees awarded, a split panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. On appeal, we hold that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the homeowner’s award of attorney fees and costs under Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-119(c) was limited to those incurred after the date the amended countercomplaint was filed. We reverse the Court of Appeals, vacate the trial court’s award, and remand to the trial court for reconsideration of the award of reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Link to Court of Appeals Opinions: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/donovan.mindy_.opn_.pdf 

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/donovan.mindy_.sep_.opn_.pdf

Summary by the Court of Appeals:  

The trial court dismissed a contractor’s amended countercomplaint against a homeowner for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court then awarded the homeowner her attorney fees in the amount of $3,600 pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(c). The homeowner appealed arguing that, in limiting her recovery to $3,600, the trial court interpreted the statute too narrowly. Because the trial court properly interpreted the statute, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Permission to Appeal Granted:  April 7, 2021

Appellants’ Briefs Filed:  May 5, 2021

Appellees’ Briefs Filed:  June 4, 2021

Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed:  None

Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:  None

Amicus Briefs Permitted:  None

Oral Argument Date: December 1, 2021

Link to Oral Argument Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auKC72Kgao4

 

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