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John Thorkildsen v. Margot Belden

February 17, 2011

JOHN THORKILDSEN, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
MARGOT BELDEN, AND FISH CREEK DESIGN, LLC, APPELLEES (PLAINTIFFS).



Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kite, Chief Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of typographical or other formal errors so correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] After this Court affirmed judgment in his favor in an action filed against him for payment on a loan, Belden v. Thorkildsen, 2008 WY 145, 197 P.3d 148 (Wyo. 2008) (Belden II), John Thorkildsen filed a motion for attorney fees. The district court ultimately denied the motion and Mr. Thorkildsen appealed. We reverse.

ISSUE

[¶2] The issue for this Court's determination is whether the district court erred when it denied Mr. Thorkildsen's motion for attorney fees.

FACTS

[¶3] This case is before us for the fourth time. Margot Belden and her son were partners in a business, Fish Creek Interiors & Gifts, in Teton County, Wyoming. Mr. Thorkildsen worked for the business. In 2000, Ms. Belden approached Mr. Thorkildsen about whether he would be interested in purchasing her son's 30% interest in the business. To accomplish that result, the business borrowed money from the Bank of Jackson Hole. Ms. Belden and Mr. Thorkildsen signed the note.

[¶4] In 2001, Mr. Thorkildsen, Ms. Belden and others formed Fish Creek Designs, LLC. In the process, the LLC obtained a loan which was used to pay off the earlier partnership loan. The LLC ultimately fired Mr. Thorkildsen and went out of business. Ms. Belden paid the balance left on the LLC's loan. She and the LLC filed an action against Mr. Thorkildsen claiming he was obligated to repay the amounts they had paid on the loan.*fn1

[¶5] The matter went to trial, and the district court entered judgment for Mr. Thorkildsen. Ms. Belden and the LLC appealed, and this Court reversed the judgment and remanded the case to the district court. Belden v. Thorkildsen, 2007 WY 68, 156 P.3d 320 (Wyo. 2007) (Belden I). After further proceedings, the district court again entered judgment for Mr. Thorkildsen. Ms. Belden and the LLC again appealed and we affirmed the judgment.

Belden II, ¶ 25, 197 P.3d at 156. Mr. Thorkildsen then filed a motion for costs and attorney fees in district court.

[¶6] After a hearing, the district court entered an order granting the motion for costs and awarding Mr. Thorkildsen $2,070.90. The order was silent as to attorney fees. Mr. Thorkildsen appealed to this Court and, in Thorkildsen v. Belden, 2010 WY 17, 223 P.3d 1291 (Wyo. 2010) (Thorkildsen I), we remanded the case to the district court with instructions to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the attorney fees motion.

[¶7] Back in district court, Ms. Belden and the LLC submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Mr. Thorkildsen did not submit proposed findings and conclusions. Neither party requested a hearing. The district court entered an order denying attorney fees, concluding that the dispute involved events and agreements predating the LLC operating agreement and Mr. Thorkildsen did not segregate or identify the attorney fees incurred on the claim for breach of the LLC operating agreement. Mr. Thorkildsen again appealed to this Court from the district court's order.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶8] Ordinarily, we review a district court's denial of an attorney fee award for abuse of discretion. Stafford v. JHL, Inc., 2008 WY 128, ¶ 14, 194 P.3d 315, 318 (Wyo. 2008). However, when the determination of whether a party is entitled to attorney fees is based upon a contract providing for such fees, our usual rules of contract interpretation apply. When contractual language is clear and unambiguous, the interpretation and construction of contracts is a matter of law for the courts. Cheek v. Jackson Wax Museum, Inc., 2009 WY 151, ΒΆ ...


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