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New Case Law: Attorney Fees – Arbitration vs. Appeal March 22, 2008

Posted by margolinlegal in Arbitration, Attorney Fees, Dissolution, Legal Developments, Property Division.
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As a Portland Oregon divorce lawyer, it is important to keep up to date on Oregon Court of Appeals and Oregon Supreme Court opinions. As a service of The Oregon Divorce Blog, we will be providing updates as new opinions come out.

On March 19, 2008, the Oregon Court of Appeals, in Ornelas and Ornelas, explained the difference between awarding attorney fees in arbitration appeals and appeals to the court of appeals.

In an Oregon divorce case where the parties have no children and no spousal support award is requested by either party the case is sent to mandatory arbitration. If either party disagrees with the result in arbitration, that party can appeal the arbitrator’s ruling for a trial de novo at the circuit court level. That means that a judge will look at the case without referring to the arbitrator’s ruling.

ORS 36.425(4)(c) provides:

“If a party requests a trial de novo under the provisions of this section, the action is subject to arbitration under ORS 36.405(1)(b), and the position of the party is not improved after judgment on the trial de novo, the party shall not be entitled to an award of attorney fees or costs and disbursements and shall be taxed the costs and disbursements incurred by the other parties after the filing of the decision and award of the arbitrator.”

This means that the trial court must make an award of attorney fees to a party who asks for a trial after arbitration and does not receive a better result.

In Ornelas, the husband was upset because his wife not only asked for trial de novo after she was unhappy with the arbitrator’s ruling, but also appealed the trial court’s ruling. She received a worse result on appeal than she did at arbitration or at the trial court level. Therefore, husband argued that wife must pay his attorney fees.

The court of appeals ruled that the attorney fee award language in ORS 36.425(4)(c) only applies to trial de novo and not to appeals. This is because the court of appeals has discretion to award or not award attorney fees on appeal pursuant to ORS 107.105. Meaning that even if you do worse on appeal that at arbitration, you can still receive an attorney fee award.

The court ended up not awarding attorney fees to either party since the final distribution of martial assets put husband and wife on roughly equal financial footing.

The entire opinion can be reviewed at http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/A128901A.htm.

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