When neighbors take their disputes to court, it takes time and costs a lot money in attorney’s fees, to which Maricopa County neighbors Gregory Cook and Cynthia Grebe can attest.
Mr. Cook sued his neighbor Ms. Grebe, alleging adverse possession for exclusive use and maintenance of property for more than 15 years and that Ms. Grebe’s failure to maintain and secure the property constituted a private nuisance. Ms. Grebe counterclaimed, alleging that the property was still hers, with counts for quiet title, conversion, unjust enrichment and trespass. The jury ruled in Ms. Grebe’s favor that the property remained hers, but in Mr. Cook’s favor on his private nuisance claim. Presumably Mr. Cook was granted damages for the amount he spent maintaining the property over the years, but the issue before the Court of Appeals related only to the attorney’s fees.
Since Ms. Grebe prevailed against Mr. Cook on his adverse possession claim and on her own quiet title claim, by Arizona statute, A.R.S. §12-1103(B), she is entitled to attorney’s fees in an amount set by the court. The other claims do not include an entitlement to attorney’s fees in Arizona, where attorney’s fees are granted only when specified by statute or arising out of contract.
Ms. Grebe requested $82,726.75 in attorney’s fees. In evaluating the amount for the attorney’s fees award, the trial court reduced the total fees by approximately 40% to $50,000.00 to account for the lost claims. Mr. Cook appealed, alleging that he was the prevailing party on many of the claims. The Court of Appeals held that Mr. Cook failed to meet his burden to establish the unreasonableness of the fee award, so it was upheld. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the prevailing party in a quiet title action is entitled to attorney’s fees regardless of whether they prevailed on the other claims filed. The other claims are relevant only to the determination of whether the amount of fees awarded is reasonable. Cook v. Grebe, 1 CA-CV 17-0211.