Dickson, Trustee of Kelly A. Dickson 2008 Trust v. State
In Dickson, Trustee of Kelly A. Dickson 2008 Trust v. State, 487 P.3d 584 (Alaska 2021), the supreme court held that the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it decided to uphold an unusually large attorney’s fee award after considering and rejecting factors relevant to reduction. (Id. at 594-95). Dickson, trustee of the Kelly A. Dickson 2008 Trust, and DeFusco filed a quiet title action to invalidate an RS 2477 right of way and a prescriptive easement over land they owned near Big Lake. (Id. at 588). Following a 27-day bench trial in 2016, the superior court found in favor of the State and awarded the State approximately $205,000 in attorney’s fees. (Id.). Dickson and DeFusco appealed the decision, and the Alaska supreme court upheld the merits of the decision but remanded the attorney’s fees award for further consideration. (Id.). The superior court made specific findings under Rule 82(b)(3)(I) and (J) as directed but upheld the award. (Id. at 588–89). Dickson and DeFusco appealed this decision, and they argued that the superior court abused its discretion when it failed to conclude that factors (I) and (J) should result in a downward adjustment. (Id. at 589). The superior court considered the complexity and length of the case when determining, under factor (I), that similarly situated litigants would not be deterred by this attorneys’ fee award, and the supreme court did not find any error in this analysis. (Id. at 591). Under its factor (J) analysis, the superior court determined that the State had not used the case to set factual or legal precedent, did not address claims of neighboring properties, was not a case of first impression, and would not have been litigated if Dickson and DeFusco had not initiated it. Based on these considerations, the superior court concluded that the fees incurred had not been the result of considerations beyond the case, and the supreme court did not find error in this analysis. (Id. at 592–93). The supreme court affirmed the attorney’s fees award, holding that that the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it decided to uphold an unusually large attorney’s fee award after considering and rejecting factors relevant to reduction. (Id. at 594–95).