Lee-Magana v. Carpenter

[FAMILY LAW]

In Lee-Magana v. Carpenter,[1] the supreme court held that prevailing petitioners, although not prevailing respondents, should generally be awarded attorneys’ fees in protective order proceedings.[2] Lee-Magana and Carpenter were in a romantic relationship for approximately two years and had a child together, but split amidst allegations of domestic violence.[3] Lee-Magana petitioned first for protective orders against Carpenter, which were granted.[4] A few weeks after Lee-Magana’s filed those petitions, Carpenter filed for his own protective orders against Lee-Magana, which were denied by the same judge.[5] Having prevailed in both petitions, Lee-Magana moved for attorneys’ fees for each proceeding, which the superior court denied without explanation.[6] On reconsideration, the superior court stood by both of its decisions and explained that it was denying attorneys’ fees for Lee-Magana’s successful defense against Carpenter’s protective order petition out of concern for chilling worthy domestic violence victims’ pursuits of relief.[7] As for Lee-Magana’s successful protective order petition against Carpenter, the superior court explained that, while Lee-Magana sought recovery under a statute that shifted fees in protective order proceedings for domestic violence victims, the hearing at which Lee-Magana ultimately won primarily addressed custody and child support issues.[8] On appeal, the supreme court agreed with the superior court’s policy reasoning as to Lee-Magana’s defense against Carpenter’s petition and added that this was consistent with the relevant statute’s plain text.[9] However, the supreme court built on precedent developed in child support cases to conclude that the superior court erred in not granting attorneys’ fees in Lee-Magana’s successful petition because, based on the statute, withholding attorneys’ fees for prevailing protective order petitioners is proper only in exceptional circumstances.[10] Accordingly, the supreme court affirmed the superior court’s decision to deny attorneys’ fees to Lee-Magana as a respondent, but reversed the decision to deny attorneys’ fees for her successful petition.[11] Affirming the superior court, the supreme court held that attorneys’ fees should generally be awarded to prevailing petitioners, although not prevailing respondents, in protective order proceedings.[12]

[1] 375 P.3d 60 (Alaska 2016).
[2] See id. at 65.
[3] Id. at 62.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id. at 63.
[8] Id.
[9] Id. at 63–64.
[10] Id. at 64–65.
[11] Id. at 65.
[12] Id.

Lee-Magana v. Carpenter

[FAMILY LAW]

In Lee-Magana v. Carpenter,[1] the supreme court held that prevailing petitioners, although not prevailing respondents, should generally be awarded attorneys’ fees in protective order proceedings.[2] Lee-Magana and Carpenter were in a romantic relationship for approximately two years and had a child together, but split amidst allegations of domestic violence.[3] Lee-Magana petitioned first for protective orders against Carpenter, which were granted.[4] A few weeks after Lee-Magana’s filed those petitions, Carpenter filed for his own protective orders against Lee-Magana, which were denied by the same judge.[5] Having prevailed in both petitions, Lee-Magana moved for attorneys’ fees for each proceeding, which the superior court denied without explanation.[6] On reconsideration, the superior court stood by both of its decisions and explained that it was denying attorneys’ fees for Lee-Magana’s successful defense against Carpenter’s protective order petition out of concern for chilling worthy domestic violence victims’ pursuits of relief.[7] As for Lee-Magana’s successful protective order petition against Carpenter, the superior court explained that, while Lee-Magana sought recovery under a statute that shifted fees in protective order proceedings for domestic violence victims, the hearing at which Lee-Magana ultimately won primarily addressed custody and child support issues.[8] On appeal, the supreme court agreed with the superior court’s policy reasoning as to Lee-Magana’s defense against Carpenter’s petition and added that this was consistent with the relevant statute’s plain text.[9] However, the supreme court built on precedent developed in child support cases to conclude that the superior court erred in not granting attorneys’ fees in Lee-Magana’s successful petition because, based on the statute, withholding attorneys’ fees for prevailing protective order petitioners is proper only in exceptional circumstances.[10] Accordingly, the supreme court affirmed the superior court’s decision to deny attorneys’ fees to Lee-Magana as a respondent, but reversed the decision to deny attorneys’ fees for her successful petition.[11] Affirming the superior court, the supreme court held that attorneys’ fees should generally be awarded to prevailing petitioners, although not prevailing respondents, in protective order proceedings.[12]

[1] 375 P.3d 60 (Alaska 2016).
[2] See id. at 65.
[3] Id. at 62.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id. at 63.
[8] Id.
[9] Id. at 63–64.
[10] Id. at 64–65.
[11] Id. at 65.
[12] Id.