Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Catherine E. Wilking, Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice.
Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.
[¶1] In 2005, the Wyo Central Federal Credit Union (Credit Union) filed an action in state district court against Mark Broderick (Broderick) seeking judgment and foreclosure on a note and mortgage on which Broderick had defaulted. Broderick immediately filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, which stayed the Credit Union's state court action. Following the conclusion of the bankruptcy proceedings, which cured Broderick's original default under the note and mortgage but did not discharge the debt, Broderick again defaulted on the note. In 2010, the Credit Union amended its original complaint and again sought judgment and foreclosure on its note and mortgage. The district court granted the Credit Union summary judgment both on the amount the Credit Union demanded as due and owing under the note and on the attorney fees and costs it requested pursuant to the mortgage enforcement terms. We affirm.
[¶2] Broderick presents the following issues on appeal, all of them relating to the award of attorney fees and costs:
1. Whether the determination by a state court of an oversecured creditor's attorney fees incurred in a bankruptcy proceeding is subject to the Preemption Doctrine?
2. Whether Appellee should be denied its attorney fees by its failure to submit these fees to the Bankruptcy Court for approval?
3. Whether Appellee proved its damages with a reasonable degree of certainty?
[¶3] On July 24, 2003, Broderick executed a fifteen-year note by which he agreed to repay the Credit Union the sum of $52,000.00, on or before August 1, 2018. The Note was secured by a Mortgage on Broderick's home executed on that same date. Broderick defaulted on the Note, and on September 26, 2005, the Credit Union filed a Complaint in district court seeking judgment and foreclosure on the Note and Mortgage. On September 28, 2005, Broderick responded by filing a Notice of Bankruptcy, and the district court thereafter stayed the state court action until resolution of the bankruptcy proceeding.
[¶4] On January 16, 2008, the bankruptcy court confirmed Broderick's "Eighth Amended Chapter 13 Plan." Through payments under the plan, Broderick's default on the Note and Mortgage was cured, but the plan did not discharge the debt. Under the confirmed plan, Broderick was required to make payments directly to the Credit Union, in accordance with the terms of the Note. Those payments were to be made outside Broderick's plan payments and continue after Broderick's bankruptcy discharge. On August 11, 2009, the bankruptcy court issued its Discharge of Debtor After Completion of Chapter 13 Plan.
[¶5] Shortly after the bankruptcy court discharge, Broderick defaulted on the Note, and on April 22, 2010, the Credit Union filed an Amended Complaint, again seeking judgment and foreclosure on the Note and Mortgage. The Credit Union claimed unpaid principal in the amount of $36,024.94, plus interest accruing on that balance and late fees. The terms of the Note and the Mortgage obligated Broderick to pay the Credit Union's costs and expenses expended in the collection of the debt, and the Credit Union therefore also sought attorney fees and costs.
[¶6] On June 21, 2010, the Credit Union filed a motion for summary judgment on all of its claims. In its summary judgment motion, the Credit Union requested attorney fees in the amount of $34,079.55. The Credit Union attached to its motion a twenty-nine page fee statement, detailing the fees and costs its attorney charged on the Broderick matter from February 2, 2005, through May 24, 2010. Also attached to the summary judgment motion was an affidavit from the Credit Union's attorney, which attested to the following:
8. The following factors have been considered by your Affiant in determining what reasonable attorney fees should be allowed in this instance:
a. That Affiant has been a member of the Wyoming State Bar for approximately twenty seven (27) years and has been actively engaged in the practice of law in Natrona County, Wyoming, for approximately twenty seven (27) years and that on other occasions Affiant has handled similar actions for various clients involving legal questions of the same nature and complexity involved in the within action;
b. That, at the commencement of this case, Affiant charged the rate of $150.00 per hour in-house and $200.00 per hour in Court for services of Affiant in performing legal services in this matter. Later, these rates were changed to $200.00 per hour in-house and $250.00 per hour in Court for services of Affiant in performing legal services in this matter, that to Affiant's best knowledge and belief rates for similar actions throughout Natrona County and the State of Wyoming vary from $90.00 to $300.00 per hour for similar legal services; that the hourly rate charged by Affiant is, in Affiant's opinion and legal experience, reasonable, commensurate and well within the range of fees customarily charged by other attorneys in this locality for similar services.
c. That Affiant charges the rate of $75.00 per hour and $90.00 per hour for paralegal work in this matter; that to Affiant's best knowledge and belief rates for similar services throughout Natrona County and the State of Wyoming vary from $35.00 to $105.00 per hour; that the hourly rate charged by Affiant is, in Affiant's opinion and legal experience, reasonable, commensurate and well within the range of fees customarily charged by other firms for paralegal services.
d. As of May 31, 2010, for representing the Plaintiff in this matter and in the Defendant's bankruptcy proceeding, Affiant has charged the Plaintiff to that date a total of $40,517.50 in fees and a total of $765.26 in costs for a total of $41,282.76 which fees and costs are set out in detail in the attached statement dated May 31, 2010.
e. Your Affiant's involvement in this case has precluded him from accepting other employment from other clients as well as the Plaintiff.
9. As of August 22, 2008, the Plaintiff had received from the Defendant's Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee payments for court-approved attorney fees and costs in the principal sum of Seven Thousand Two Hundred Three and 21/100 Dollars ($7,203.21) for which the Defendant should be given credit against the total amount of reasonable attorney fees and costs awarded herein.
10. That in the opinion and legal expertise of your Affiant, based upon the ability and quality of the attorney involved in this matter, the complexity of the matter, the work actually performed to date, the manner in which said work has to date been done and in the future will be performed and the expected result of the legal services performed to date, when considered in the further light of fees customarily charged in the locality of Natrona County, Wyoming for similar services, a fee of $40,517.50 is a reasonable attorney's fee in the within action for my representation up through and including May 31, 2010; that the Plaintiff ought to also recover $765.26 in costs; that the Defendant should be given credit against these fees and costs in the amount of $7,203.21; and that the Plaintiff is entitled to a total award of $34,079.55. It is also anticipated that the Plaintiff will incur additional attorney's fees and costs from and after May 31, 2010 and that this Court should, after further notice and hearing, award the Plaintiff said additional reasonable costs and fees.
[¶7] On July 29, 2010, Broderick filed in the bankruptcy court a motion to reopen his bankruptcy case, along with a Motion for Order to Show Cause and/or Contempt Citation. Through those motions, Broderick requested that the bankruptcy court hold the Credit Union in contempt for "attempting to assess attorney fees against [Broderick] in violation of the Bankruptcy Code and . . . [the] plan confirmation order." In particular, Broderick argued to the bankruptcy court that the Credit Union's failure to apply to that court for compensation for attorney fees and costs, pursuant to Fed. R. Bankr. P. 2016(a), must result in a denial of such fees and costs.
[¶8] On August 6, 2010, Broderick filed an objection in state district court to the Credit Union's summary judgment motion. He argued the following in opposition to the motion:
There are genuine issues of material fact regarding (1) the amount of Plaintiff's attorney fees, since $34,389.69 were not disclosed to or approved by the Bankruptcy Court, (2) the application of the payments as between late charges, escrow expenses, attorney fees and principal and interest, and (3) whether ...