CHARACTER OF PROCEEDINGS: Civil Appeal from Court of Common Pleas of Mahoning County, Ohio Case No. 08CV3268
For Plaintiff-Appellant Attorney Cherie H. Howard
For Defendant-Appellee Attorney Diane S. A. Vettori
JUDGES: Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Mary DeGenaro
(¶1} Plaintiff-appellant, Shoffon Scipio, appeals from a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judgment awarding her attorney fees of $3, 500.
(¶2} On August 13, 2008, appellant filed a complaint against defendant-appellee, Used Car Connection, Inc., alleging violations of the Retail Installment Sales Act and the Consumer Sales Practices Act. She later filed a supplemental complaint asserting improper disposition of collateral. Appellee filed a counterclaim alleging appellant failed to make timely payments or to pay a mechanic's bill.
(¶3} On October 22, 2009, appellant filed a motion for summary judgment. A magistrate sustained appellant's motion in part, finding that she was entitled to statutory damages of $600, entitled to judgment on appellee's counterclaim, and entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees to be determined at a later hearing. Neither party filed objections. The trial court subsequently adopted the magistrate's decision and entered judgment accordingly.
(¶4} Next, appellant filed a motion for attorney's fees in the amount of $10, 000. She later filed a supplemental motion for attorney's fees in the amount of an additional $4, 000 and $300 in costs, which she stated her attorney incurred in establishing her entitlement to a fees award. The magistrate held a hearing on appellant's motion where he heard testimony from appellant's attorney and an expert witness on each side.
(¶5} The magistrate sustained both appellant's motion and supplemental motion. He awarded a total of $10, 158 in attorney's fees against appellee.
(¶6} Appellee filed objections to the magistrate's decision arguing that the fee award was excessive. The trial court held a hearing on the objections. The court found that in light of the fact that appellant was absent from the court's jurisdiction for an extensive period of time during the course of the case, the case could not be settled and the efficient administration of justice was frustrated. It modified the magistrate's award to $3, 500. Appellant appealed from that judgment.
(¶7} On appeal, this court found that the trial court had failed to apply the methodology set out in Bittner v. Tri-County Toyota, 58 Ohio St.3d 143, 146, 569 N.E.2d 464 (1991), for determining reasonable attorney fees. Scipio v. Used Car Connection, Inc., 7th Dist. No. 10-MA-186, 2012-Ohio-891. Therefore, we reversed the judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to set forth its methodology in determining the amount of attorney fees with sufficient specificity so as to satisfy the criteria contemplated by Bittner.
(¶8} On remand, the trial court once again awarded appellant $3, 500 in attorney fees. This time the court gave a detailed explanation of its award by analyzing each of the Bittner considerations.
(¶9} Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal on May 14, 2012.
(¶10} Appellant raises four assignments of error. All of her assignments of error assert the court abused its discretion in making its award of attorney's fees.
(¶11} The standard of review on the issue of attorney fees is abuse of discretion. Motorists Mut. Ins. Co. v. Brandenburg, 72 Ohio St.3d 157, 160, 648 N.E.2d 488 (1995). Abuse of discretion connotes more than an error of law; it implies that the trial court's attitude was unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219, 450 N.E.2d 1140 (1983).
Unless the amount of [attorney] fees determined is so high or so low as to shock the conscience, an appellate court will not interfere. The trial judge which participated not only in the trial but also in many of the preliminary proceedings leading up to the trial has an infinitely better opportunity to determine the value of services rendered by lawyers who have tried a case before him than does an appellate court.
Bittner v. Tri-County Toyota, 58 Ohio St.3d 143, 146, 569 N.E.2d 464 (1991), quoting Brooks v. Hurst Buick-Pontiac-Olds-GMC, Inc., 23 Ohio App.3d 85, 91, 491 N.E.2d 345 (12th Dist.1985).
(¶12} The Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA) provides for the award of reasonable attorney fees, limited to the work reasonably performed, if the supplier has knowingly committed an act or practice that violates the CSPA. R.C. 1345.09(F)(2). When the supplier in a consumer transaction intentionally committed an act or practice which is deceptive, unfair, or unconscionable, the trial court may award a consumer reasonable attorney ...