When key issues are left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and the trial court carefully weighs the evidence in deciding those issues, should the party on the wrong side of the decision appeal? That is a difficult and recurring question facing appellants. A recent Idaho Supreme Court decision suggests that appellate attorneys should strongly consider the standard of review and thoroughness of the trial court’s decision before bringing an appeal, or risk an award of attorney fees on appeal against their client.
In Lamont v. Lamont, 2015 Opinion No. 40 (Apr. 21, 2015), the Idaho Supreme Court awarded attorney fees on appeal to Respondent Krissy Lamont in a child custody dispute. After her divorce from Appellant Matthew Lamont, Krissy was granted primary physical custody of the couple’s two minor children. Several years later, Krissy planned to relocate the children from Salmon, Idaho to Meridian, Idaho. Matthew sought primary physical custody of the children, and Krissy petitioned to relocate the children. After a hearing, the magistrate granted Krissy’s petition and allowed the relocation. Matthew appealed.
The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the magistrate, holding substantial and competent evidence fully supported the magistrate’s findings. The Court then turned to the question of attorney fees and whether Matthew brought the appeal frivolously, unreasonably, or without foundation pursuant to Idaho Code § 12-121. The Court found Matthew had. In particular, the Court noted that “child custody disputes are left to the sound discretion of trial court, and the magistrate did an exceptional job of carefully and thoughtfully deciding this case within the applicable legal standards. We are not convinced that there are any genuine issues of law or legitimate issues of fact presented by this appeal.”
Lamont shows that appellants must be careful in assessing their chances on appeal in cases where the standard of review is extremely deferential to the trial court, and the trial court provides careful and thorough findings consistent with the governing law. Otherwise the client will be needlessly throwing good money after bad.