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Powers v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Michigan

June 18, 2019

MIKA POWERS, doing business as SWEET RIDES AUTO, Plaintiff/Counterdefendant-Appellee,
v.
KELLY RAY BROWN, Defendant/Counterplaintiff-Appellant.

          Montcalm Circuit Court LC No. 2015-020295-CZ

          Before: K. F. Kelly, P.J., and Fort Hood and Redford, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Defendant/counterplaintiff Kelly Ray Brown appeals as of right the trial court's order awarding him attorney fees in the amount of $17, 469.54 after he successfully prevailed on a statutory conversion claim against plaintiff/counterdefendant Mika Powers, doing business as Sweet Rides Auto. We vacate and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Brown purchased a pickup truck from Sweet Rides Auto in 2014. In 2015, after Sweet Rides Auto claimed that defendant missed a monthly payment, it repossessed the truck, sold it at auction, and applied the sale proceeds to the loan. Sweet Rides Auto filed suit against Brown in an attempt to recover the remaining loan balance from Brown, but Brown counterclaimed that Sweet Rides Auto had wrongfully converted the truck. At a bench trial, the trial court found that Sweet Rides Auto had wrongfully converted the truck and awarded a judgment in favor of Brown in the amount of $10, 122, plus attorney fees and costs.

         Brown subsequently filed a motion seeking an attorney fee award of $30, 347.50 on the basis of his counsel's hourly rate and hours billed. After hearing Brown's motion, the trial court found that the hourly rate and hours billed were reasonable, but the total amount of fees billed was too high in relation to the "best case" outcome that had been possible for Brown at trial. The court found that because defense counsel had billed on a contingent basis, an appropriate award was one-third of the maximum amount that could be recovered ($52, 983). By the trial court's calculation, one-third of $52, 983 was $17, 659.23, so the trial court awarded Brown $17, 659.23 in attorney fees. The trial court later entered an order awarding reasonable attorney fees to Brown in the amount of $17, 469.54.[1] Brown now appeals as of right.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review a trial court's award of attorney fees for an abuse of discretion. Smith v Khouri, 481 Mich. 519, 526; 751 N.W.2d 472 (2008) (opinion by Taylor, C.J). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's decision is outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes." Pirgu v United Servs Auto Ass'n, 499 Mich. 269, 274; 884 N.W.2d 257 (2016). "A trial court necessarily abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law." Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Brown challenges the amount of the attorney fees awarded and criticizes the trial court for not adhering to Michigan Supreme Court precedent in its attorney fee award.

         The trial court awarded Brown attorney fees pursuant to MCL 600.2919a, which provides, in pertinent part:

(1) A person damaged as a result of either or both of the following may recover 3 times the amount of actual damages sustained, plus costs and reasonable attorney fees:
(a)Another person's stealing or embezzling property or converting property to the other ...

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