Case evaluation sanctions add insult to injury
James Parker sued "They Say Ribs" and others, including Payne Landscaping. The case was sent to Case Evaluation, where three experienced attorneys recommended a settlement value of $200,000.00. All of the Defendants agreed with this evaluation and would have agreed to entry of judgment. Mr. Parker did not agree, however, and the case went forward. The Landscaping company was dismissed by summary judgment and the jury ultimately entered a "no cause of action" verdict against Parker. At that point, "They Say Ribs" asked for, and received, a judgment against Parker for $119,500.00 in attorney's fees and costs.Parker appealed, arguing that the sanctions were excessive, and that under the pertinent Court Rule, "the party opposing the fee request is entitled to an evidentiary hearing...if a factual dispute exists." He also argued that in this circumstance, the Court should apply the "interest of justice" exception to deny sanctions.
The Court of Appeals rejected Parker's appeal and upheld the sanction award. It concluded that simple "reasonableness" was not an adequate basis to justify his protection from sanctions and that the "interest of justice" exception should not be applied too broadly. (In other words, "the interests of justice should not trump literal interpretation of a rule.") It also held that Parker's objection to the size of the attorney fee award did not raise a question of fact. So, someone with a case that was thought, objectively, to have a value of $200,000.00, not only loses the case but now owes the original "debtor" or "at-fault" $119,000.00. "Adding insult to injury" is an understatement.