Oregon Case Law Update: Oregon Trial Court’s Award of Reduced Attorney Fees Subject to Remand Due to Insufficient Explanation

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Oregon Case Law Update: Oregon Trial Court’s Award of Reduced Attorney Fees Subject to Remand Due to Insufficient Explanation

From the Desk of Joshua P. Hayward: Attorney fee exposure can cause small cases to turn into big problems. In some cases, the prevailing party’s fees may be reduced by the trial court if they are unreasonable, unrelated, or excessive. What factors does a judge weigh when making such a reduction? Does the court have to explain its reasoning when it does so? Read on to find out.

Claims Pointer: In this dispute with attorney fee exposure, the plaintiff received an award of $3,600 at the trial court and sought more than $7,000 in attorney fees. The trial court only awarded $2,000 in a single sentence opinion letter. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in making such a large reduction without adequate explanation. The court of appeals reviewed the trial court’s decision and found that there was not enough of an explanation provided by the trial court to allow the court to adequately review the decision. Because of the insufficient record, the court remanded the case back to the trial court to provide an explanation of its reasoning. Attorney fee exposure is common in insurance defense, especially in 20.080 actions and first party cases. This case provides a good overview of the factors that go into a court will consider when making an attorney fee award.

Moreau v. Samalin, 295 Or App 534 (January 3, 2019).

Sandra Moreau (“Plaintiff”) agreed to rent an apartment from the defendant, a landlord, in Portland. The plaintiff found the apartment to be uninhabitable when she moved in. After terminating her lease, she unsuccessfully sought the return of her deposit and filed a lawsuit under Oregon’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ORLTA). She secured a default judgment against defendant for $3,600 and sought $3,054 in attorney fees as authorized by the statute. Following the judgment, defendant...

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