October 22, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Lacked Authority to Award Fees for Unjustified Claim in Foreign Court

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bruce v. Roberts on Thursday, December 15, 2016.

Trust—Frivolous Lawsuit—Attorney Fees—Foreign Court—Work Product.

James Roberts assisted his mother Della Roberts with forming the Della I. Roberts Trust in Colorado, where she lived. Upon Della’s death eight days later, James, the designated trustee, was supposed to divide the trust’s assets into two equal shares—one to benefit James and his wife, Mary Sue Roberts, and the second to benefit Della’s grandchildren, James and Mary Sue’s children. James did not properly administer the trust, but apparently, no one expressed concern about his administration until after he died.

After James’s death, Mary Sue assumed the role of trustee pursuant to the trust’s provisions. The grandchildren, who were ultimately appointed as trustees (trustees) objected and promptly removed Mary Sue as trustee. Although the Colorado court assumed jurisdiction, Mary Sue filed a separate case in West Virginia, where she lived, which was later dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Bruce represented Mary Sue in both the Colorado and West Virginia matters. The district court in Colorado accepted a final accounting of the trust filed by trustees, ordered all assets remaining in the trust be distributed to the grandchildren in equal shares, and found that the trust could recover administrative costs and attorney fees incurred in litigating both the Colorado and West Virginia cases, pursuant to CRS § 13-17-102, from Bruce and Mary Sue. It also assessed $54,565 in fees against Bruce for the West Virginia action.

Bruce appealed the district court’s order only as it pertains to attorney fees awarded for the West Virginia action. He contended that CRS § 13-17-102 did not authorize the court to award attorney fees incurred solely in the West Virginia case. CRS §13-17-102 does not authorize a Colorado court to award attorney fees incurred in an action in a foreign court, unless work product created for use in the foreign court is also used in the Colorado court. Neither the district court’s order nor the record clarifies whether the trustees used work product created for the West Virginia action in the Colorado proceedings.

The portion of the order awarding $54,565 for attorney fees incurred in the West Virginia action was vacated, and the case was remanded for the district court to determine whether the trustees used work product created for the West Virginia action in the Colorado proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.