Court Denies a Party Attorneys’ Fees in Trespass

Court Denies a Party Attorneys’ Fees in Trespass Action

In Belle Terre Ranch, Inc. v. Wilson, a California Appellate Court recently reversed an award of attorneys’ fees in a trespass case. In Belle Terre, the plaintiff and defendant had a dispute over the location of the property lines between their adjoining properties. Plaintiffs sued defendant to quiet title to a strip of land and for trespass. Plaintiff also sought a permanent injunction barring defendant from trespassing and attorneys’ fees and costs. The complaint did not seek damages. The court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff. The court also permanently enjoined defendant from trespassing on plaintiff’s property and awarded plaintiff damages in the amount of $1 on its claim of trespass. The court, thereafter, awarded plaintiff attorneys’ fees in the amount of $116,920. Defendant appealed claiming that the plaintiff was not the prevailing party, since plaintiff only recovered $1. The court of appeal reversed, finding that nominal damages were awarded without proof of actual injury to property. There was no testimony as to the actual damages incurred by the plaintiff. The trial court awarded $1 only to show the intangible harm to the “dignitary interest” of the landowner personally, and not injury to the property. As such, the award of attorneys’ fees is not appropriate.

Shannon B. Jones, Partner,