August 23, 2018

Appeals Court Rules Owners Entitled to Attorney Fees in Dispute with Neighbors

Matthew and Rachel Milcic sued John and Anne Estes for damages and other relief after the Estes cut branches off their trees, built an encroaching fence, painted the words "PULL YOUR WEEDS!" on the Milcics' side of the fence, and placed unwanted fill dirt on the Milcics' property. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Milcics on their causes of action (nuisance, timber trespass, spite fence, and damage to land or property). Following a trial on damages, the court awarded the Milcics some, but not all, of their requested damages and denied their request for an award of attorney fees. The Milcics appealed the court's damages award and attorney fee denial. In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that the Milcics were entitled to an award of some of their attorney fees and costs.

Damages for trespassing and nuisance may include lost enjoyment of the use of property, but the trial court declined to award the Milcics damages relating to those claims because it decided that any damage to their land and property was minimal. However, RCW 4.24.630 states that "[e]very person who goes onto the land of another and who removes timber ... from the land, or wrongfully causes waste or injury to the land, or wrongfully injures personal property or improvements to the real estate on the land, is liable to the injured party for treble the amount of the damages caused by the removal, waste, or injury .... In addition, the party is liable for reimbursing the injured party for the party's reasonable costs, including but not limited to investigative costs and reasonable attorneys' fees and other litigation-related costs." The appellate court concluded that the Milcics were entitled to some of their attorney fees and costs under this statute due to the fence encroachments committed by the Estes.