October 26, 2020 Top Story

Appellate Court Strikes Down Award of Attorney Fees

State supreme court finds that extreme bad faith needed to justify awarding attorney fees

By Benjamin E. Long

The bar to obtain attorney fees for vexatious conduct is high, a state supreme court has cautioned. The decision overturned a lower court’s fee award of $237,440 despite evidence that the litigation was filed for the purpose of delay and was filed after the limitations period ended. ABA Section of Litigation leaders advise that because courts are reluctant to award attorney fees, practitioners seeking them should develop compelling grounds.

During litigation, the road was designated a scenic byway, preventing construction of the billboards

During litigation, the road was designated a scenic byway, preventing construction of the billboards

Credit: dies-irae | iStockphoto by Getty Images

Billboards Trigger Lawsuit

In River Ridge Development Authority v .Outfront Media, LLC, et al., the River Ridge Development Authority sued to prevent Outfront Media, LLC, an outdoor advertising company, from constructing several roadside billboards near a business park known as the River Ridge Commerce Center. During the litigation, the Indiana Department of Transportation designated the road near the proposed billboards a scenic byway, which prevented construction of the billboards. River Ridge immediately dismissed its lawsuit.

Outfront Media and other defendants then moved for attorney fees, arguing that River Ridge sued merely to buy time until the scenic byway designation. Additionally, Outfront Media contended that River Ridge acted in bad faith by opposing the fee motion on the grounds that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to award attorney fees despite precedent to the contrary.

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