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Wihongi v. Catania SFH

Wihongi v. Catania SFH, 2020 UT App 109 (Hagen, J.)

Contract

Appellant sued Catania for breach of contract. Catania counterclaimed, arguing that appellant owed him $25,000. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Catania and appellant’s claims went to trial. The jury awarded appellant almost $100,000. The net judgment was, therefore, around $75,000. The district court further ruled that neither party prevailed under the contract’s attorney fees provision and declined to award either party attorney fees. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding:

  • The district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that neither party prevailed. The court was legally required to award attorney fees to the prevailing party under the contract, but the question of which party prevailed was left to the sound discretion of the trial court. The contract language did not define “prevailing party,” each party prevailed on one claim with an award of damages, the court weighed the claims equally, and because appellant received only 31% of what he sought while appellee received 100% of what he sought, the net judgment was a draw. 
    • Appellant has not argued that the district court’s findings regarding weighing the claims are legally insufficient, nor has he requested a remand for entry of supplemental findings. And the court’s ruling is sufficiently detailed to “enable meaningful appellate review.” The district court undertook the correct analytical steps, so the court of appeals defers to the court’s assessment of the relative importance of the claims.  
    • The court correctly considered the net damages as well as engaged in a flexible and reasoned analysis. Its determination was not outside of its discretion.
    • Culpability is one of many factors a district court may consider in determining who the prevailing party is; it is not dispositive. Further, both parties breached the contract.

Read the full court opinion

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