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Valdez Fisheries Development Ass'n, Inc. v. Froines

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 16, 2009

VALDEZ FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION, INC., Appellant,
v.
Chris FROINES, Appellee.

Page 831

Stephen McAlpine, Law Offices of Stephen McAlpine, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Jeffrey J. Jarvi, Michael T. Stehle, Stehle & Jarvi, L.L.C., Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, WINFREE, and CHRISTEN, Justices.

OPINION

CHRISTEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Valdez Fisheries Development Association, Inc., appeals an award of attorney's fees. It argues that the fee award misinterprets this court's earlier opinion reversing and remanding the original award of attorney's fees in this case. We agree, and remand for recalculation of the fee award.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In May 2000 Chris Froines filed suit against Valdez Fisheries, seeking damages for breach of contract.[1] On December 15, 2003, Froines made an Alaska Civil Rule 68 offer of judgment to settle the dispute if Valdez Fisheries would pay him $15,000. Valdez Fisheries refused the offer.[2] After a five-day trial, the jury entered a verdict in Froines's favor, awarding him $10,000 in damages.[3]

Froines moved for attorney's fees under Alaska Civil Rule 68(b)(2). [4] The motion was

Page 832

supported by an affidavit and billing records showing the number of hours Froines's attorneys worked and their hourly rates. The affidavit calculated that the total amount of attorney's fees incurred on Froines's behalf was $74,394.50. Because of the date of the offer, Civil Rule 68 authorized an award of fifty percent of Froines's " reasonable actual attorney's fees." [5] The motion requested an award of fifty percent of the total fees. Noting that he had incurred fees of $74,394.50, Froines sought an award of $37,197.25. The superior court agreed that Froines's jury verdict entitled him to an attorney's fee award in the amount of fifty percent of his reasonable actual attorney's fees. But the superior court looked in part to the factors of Alaska Professional Conduct Rule 1.5 and determined that reasonable actual fees should not have exceeded $20,000.[6] The superior court thus awarded Froines $10,000 in attorney's fees.[7]

Froines appealed, and we reversed.[8] Our decision in Froines II explained that the fee award might have been improperly based on certain factors listed in Professional Conduct Rule 1.5 that were inapplicable or that " cut both ways" under the facts of this case.[9] We remanded for recalculation because we could not say with certainty that the attorney's fee award would have been the same had the factors been considered properly. [10]

On remand, the superior court interpreted our opinion to require that " reasonable actual attorney's fees" be equated to " the amount of time that an attorney honestly chooses to spend on the case." The superior court articulated that its interpretation of Froines II precluded it from exercising its discretion: " [a] subjective [evaluation] ... requires this court to approve the amount of time" actually worked. The superior court awarded $42,090.50 in Rule 68(b)(2) attorney's fees to Froines, exactly ...


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