• December 23, 2009

It seems to me that an unwritten rule of U.S. civil litigation is that courts, in a large number of cases in which the award of attorneys’ fees is a possibility, prefer not to award them (and it is common, also, for courts to give fee claims a “haircut.” See, e.g., here.)

Redman v. Sinex, decided December 22 by Judge James Rosenbaum (U.S. District Court, D. Minn.), is a prime example.

Redman lent $430,000 to his friend and neighbor, Sinex, documented by a promissory note. The note became due. The debt went unpaid. Redman brought suit under the note, which provided for costs of collection.

On plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the Court rejected Sinex’s defenses (related to viewing the written contract in a larger context, including alleged oral agreements) and awarded summary judgment to Redman. However, even though the Court held, “Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law for the outstanding sums, plus costs of collection,” the Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees (and gave no reason for the denial).

If the debt, interest rate, and so on were enforceable terms of the contract, why not the attorneys’ fees/costs of collection provision?

Here’s one theory: Sinex, of course, has the right to appeal the adverse decision on the merits, which would not only delay Redman’s eventual recovery (assuming affirmance on appeal, of course) but would also add one more case to the appellate docket. Redman now has a cross-appeal on the attorneys’ fees issue, however, which presumably substantially alters Sinex’s cost/benefit analysis. Could this be a “split the baby” kind of decision to foster settlement sooner rather than later?

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