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Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations, Inc. v. Brockett Company, LLC

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 29, 2019

Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations, Inc., Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Brockett Company, LLC; Amber Brockett, Defendants and Mitchell's Oilfield Services, Inc., aka Wood Group; and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America, Defendants and Appellees

          Appeal from the District Court of McKenzie County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Robin Ann Schmidt, Judge.

          Briana L. Rummel (argued) and Monte L. Rogneby (appeared), Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

          Nicholas C. Grant (argued) and Allison R. Mann (on brief), Dickinson, ND, for defendants and appellees.

          OPINION

          VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

         [¶1] Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations, Inc. appealed from an amended judgment ordering Mitchell's Oil Field Services, Inc. and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (collectively "Mitchell's") to pay Rocky Mountain attorney's fees. Rocky Mountain argues the district court erred by failing to award it all of the attorney's fees it requested. We affirm the portion of the judgment awarding Rocky Mountain attorney's fees incurred before the prior appeal, but reverse the portion of the judgment denying the attorney's fees Rocky Mountain requested for the prior appeal and on remand. We remand for the court to properly determine a reasonable amount of attorney's fees consistent with this opinion.

         I

         [¶2] In 2014, Rocky Mountain recorded two oil and gas construction liens. Mitchell's recorded lien release bonds and the liens were attached to the bonds. The bonds replaced the oil wells as security for the liens. Rocky Mountain filed to foreclose on the liens.

         [¶3] We previously reviewed a district court judgment invalidating Rocky Mountain's oil and gas construction liens and awarding attorney's fees to Mitchell's. See Rocky Mountain Steel Founds., Inc. v. Brockett Co., LLC, 2018 ND 96, ¶ 1, 909 N.W.2d 671. We stated the underlying facts in the prior appeal, and we will not repeat them here except as necessary to resolve the issues raised in the present appeal. Id. at ¶¶ 2-4. On review, we concluded the district court erred in interpreting statutory law to invalidate the liens and by awarding Mitchell's attorney's fees. Id. at ¶ 1. We reversed the judgment and remanded for proceedings consistent with our opinion and a proper award of attorney's fees. Id. at ¶ 14.

         [¶4] On remand, Rocky Mountain moved for attorney's fees, arguing it was entitled to attorney's fees as the prevailing party in a lien foreclosure action under N.D.C.C. §§ 35-24-19 and 35-24-13(5). Rocky Mountain requested $49, 554 for attorney's fees incurred prior to the appeal, $11, 831 for the appeal, and $9, 260.50 for the fees incurred on remand. Mitchell's opposed the motion, arguing Rocky Mountain was not entitled to all of the attorney's fees it requested.

         [¶5] The district court found Rocky Mountain was entitled to $19, 025 for the work it did to pursue the lien claims. The court found it would not award any attorney's fees for the appeal because the remand did not indicate the court was to award a proper amount of appellate attorney's fees and the court believed it was proper for both parties to incur the expense of the appeal on their own. Amended judgment was entered.

         II

         [¶6] Rocky Mountain argues the district court erred by failing to award Rocky Mountain all of the attorney's fees it requested. Rocky Mountain contends it was entitled to the requested fees under N.D.C.C. §§ 35-24-19 and 35-24-13(5).

         [¶7] A district court's decision on attorney's fees is reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. Lincoln Land Dev., LLP v. City of Lincoln, 2019 ND 81, ¶ 20, 924 N.W.2d 426. A court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner, it misinterprets or misapplies the law, or when its ...


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