Trial court was within its discretion to not awarding attorney’s fees under UDJA against county

Bert Wallace v Kent County, Texas, No. 07-14-00216-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, April 13, 2016)

This is an attorney’s fee case, but one which applies when a party sued a governmental entity under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act (“UDJA”). However, it will mainly be of interest to litigators.

Wallace sought a UDJA declaration that a particular roadway was private not public. After going up and down the courts of appeal, Wallace received a judgment in his favor declaring the roadway private. Wallace sought attorney’s fees, but the trial court denied the request. Wallace appealed.

For more than a century, Texas law has not allowed the recovery of attorney’s fees unless an award is authorized by statute or contract. The UDJA does not require an award of attorney’s fees to the prevailing party, but merely permits them pursuant to the discretion of the trial court. A review of a denial of attorney’s fees is based on an abuse of discretion standard. The court held “[h]ere, we do not know the basis of the trial court’s denial of attorney’s fees to Wallace and we must presume that the trial court acted within its discretion unless the record discloses the contrary. In that regard, the record before us contains neither findings of fact nor a request for findings of fact. Without findings of fact establishing the basis for the trial court’s exercise of discretion, an appellate court should not conclude as a matter of law that the trial court abused its discretion…” As a result, the denial of fees is affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Opinion given by  Chief Justice Quinn, Justice Campbell, and Justice Pirtle. Memorandum opinion given by Justice Pirtle.