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Christine Cave v. Daniel Scheulov

April 11, 2013

CHRISTINE CAVE, APPELLANT,
v.
DANIEL SCHEULOV, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CPO-3672-11) (Hon. Fern Flanagan Saddler, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren, Senior Judge:

Argued February 21, 2013

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and OBERLY, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

Appellant Christine Cave challenges the trial court‟s denial of her request for attorney‟s fees after a successful petition for a civil protection order (CPO) against her husband, appellee Daniel Scheulov. Cave asserts that the trial court applied the incorrect standard, requiring that she prove the litigation was "oppressive or burdensome" as a "condition precedent to awarding counsel fees." We agree with Cave that no "condition precedent" factors must be resolved in her favor before the court considers all other relevant factors in determining whether to award attorney‟s fees in a CPO proceeding. Because the trial court imposed such a threshold condition, we reverse and remand for further consideration of the claimed fee award.

I.

On October 27, 2011, Cave filed a Petition and Affidavit for a CPO*fn1 against Scheulov, alleging three incidents of physical abuse or assault that had occurred within the past year.*fn2 At the time of these incidents, Cave and Scheulov had been married for thirteen years, and they have one child together. On the day the petition was filed, the court issued a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) against Scheulov. It was extended twice during the period before trial. At the end of the trial, on December 16, 2011, the court issued the CPO.

On December 20, Cave filed a post-trial Memorandum in Support of Request for Counsel Fee Award. She claimed that she was entitled to fees in the amount of $6,558.75 pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-1005 (c)(8).*fn3 On May 5, 2012, the court issued an order denying Cave‟s request:

In deciding whether to award attorney fees, the trial court should consider whether the litigation has been oppressive or burdensome to the party seeking the award.

Steadman v. Steadman, 514 A.2d 1196, 1200 (D.C. 1986). The Court should also consider the motivation and behavior of the litigating parties. Id. These factors combined will allow the trial court to determine whether any award shall be made. Id.

The Court disagrees with Petitioner‟s assertion that the Court is not required to find that Respondent engaged in oppressive or burdensome litigation to enter an award of attorney fees. Irrespective of the important policy consideration that an award of attorney fees assists domestic violence victims, Petitioner‟s request can be founded only upon a finding of bad faith, as this case does not involve a contractual obligation or statutory mandate. See Hundley v. Johnston, 18 A.3d 802, 806 (D.C. 2011).

Cave argues that the trial court erred by requiring a showing that the litigation was oppressive or burdensome as a prerequisite to receiving an award of attorney‟s fees after her successful petition for a CPO.

II.

Our review of a trial court ruling on a motion for attorney‟s fees is limited "because disposition of such motions is firmly committed to the informed discretion of the trial court."*fn4 An appellant must make a "very strong showing of abuse of discretion" to ...


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