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Bishop v. Goins

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

December 29, 2017

BISHOP
v.
GOINS et al. BISHOP et al.
v.
POWELL et al.

          ELLINGTON, P. J., ANDREWS and RICKMAN, JJ.

          Ellington, Presiding Judge.

         In 2015, Steve and Jodi Bishop appealed from stalking protective orders that the Superior Court of Jasper County entered on petitions filed by their neighbors, Bernie and Michael Goins and Jana and Keith Powell (collectively, "the petitioners"). This Court consolidated the cases and affirmed the orders in an unpublished decision.[1] The petitioners then filed motions for costs and attorney fees incurred in the appellate proceedings. The trial court granted the petitioners' motions for costs and attorney fees. This Court granted the Bishops' applications for discretionary appeal of the attorney fee awards to consider whether OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3) authorizes such awards in connection with appellate proceedings. Finding that it does, as explained below, we affirm.

         As explained in detail in our September 8, 2016 decision, the record shows that the Bishops had contentious relationships with the petitioners, who lived on the same street in Monticello as the Bishops. The petitioners, acting pro se, obtained twelvemonth stalking protective orders against the Bishops in 2014.[2] The Bishops did not appeal from those orders.

         One year later, the petitioners moved for a three-year extension of the protective orders. At a hearing, the petitioners presented evidence to show that both Steve and Jodi Bishop violated the twelve-month orders during the time that they were in effect. The trial court entered three-year protective orders against the Bishops on November 10, 2015. After the Bishops filed notices of appeal from those orders, the petitioners hired attorney Hays McQueen to handle the appeals.

         This Court concluded that the petitioners had presented reasonable evidence that the Bishops engaged in continued stalking after the entry of the twelve-month protective orders and, therefore, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in extending the orders for three years under OCGA § 16-5-94 (d). After this Court affirmed the orders, the petitioners filed motions for costs and attorney fees under OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3). The motions expressly sought to recoup attorney fees expended when the cases were on appeal to this Court. The trial court granted the motions, awarding the Goinses $4, 907.06 in attorney fees against Steve Bishop and awarding the Powells $4, 873.90 against both Jodi and Steve Bishop.

         1. The Bishops contend that the trial court erred in failing to grant their motion to dismiss the petitioners' motions for costs and attorney fees. This Court affirmed the stalking protective orders on September 8, 2016; the Powells filed their motion for costs and attorney fees in the trial court on October 3, and the Goinses filed their motion on October 5, 2016; the clerk of the trial court filed the remittiturs from this Court on October 17, 2016. The Bishops argue that, because the petitioners' filed their motions for costs and attorney fees before the filing of the remittiturs, the motions were not properly before the trial court "and any proceedings relative thereto were a nullity."

         When a case is remanded from an appellate court to the trial court, the trial court reacquires jurisdiction of a case on the date that its clerk files the remittitur of the appellate court. Marsh v. Way, 255 Ga. 284 (1) (336 S.E.2d 795) (1985).[3] Although the trial court may be initially without jurisdiction to entertain a motion that is filed before the trial court is re-invested with jurisdiction by the filing of the remittitur, however, this does not mean that such a prematurely-filed motion may not be considered by the trial court. Id. As the Supreme Court explained, when a trial court acts on a motion after the filing of the remittitur, it is reasonable to conclude that the trial court adopts that motion as a pending matter. Id. To hold that the trial court could not properly consider a motion unless the movant takes "the redundant and perfunctory step of refiling the motion would place form over substance[.]" (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id. Moreover, the Supreme Court explained, a trial court is authorized to hear motions orally presented to it during hearings. Id. Where the trial court's order stated that a motion was presented and argued at a hearing, "[t]he motion, therefore, was effectively presented to the trial court." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Id. at 284-285 (1) (citations omitted).

         Here, the trial court entered its ruling on the petitioners' motions for costs and attorney fees on May 12, 2017, after it was re-invested with jurisdiction by the filing of the remittitur. The Bishops' argument lacks merit.

         2. The Bishops contend that OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3) does not authorize the award of costs and attorney fees incurred in connection with a litigant's exercise of the right to directly appeal the granting of a stalking protective order. We review a trial court's decision whether to award attorney fees for an abuse of discretion. Odum v. Russell, ___ Ga.App. ___ (2) (802 S.E.2d 829) (2017) (fees awarded under OCGA §§ 19-6-2 (a) and 19-9-3 (g)); de Louis v. Sheppard, 277 Ga.App. 768, 771 (3) (627 S.E.2d 846) (2006) (fees awarded under OCGA § 16-5-94 (d)).

         "As a general rule, Georgia law does not provide for the award of attorney fees even to a prevailing party unless authorized by statute or by contract." Suarez v. Halbert, 246 Ga.App. 822, 824 (543 S.E.2d 733) (2000). See Cason v. Cason, 281 Ga. 296, 299 (2) (637 S.E.2d 716) (2006) (accord); Cary v. Guiragossian, 270 Ga. 192, 195 (4) (508 S.E.2d 403) (1998) (accord). A determination of whether appellate fees authorized by statute may be awarded turns on the language of the statute permitting the recovery of attorney fees. Kautter v. Kautter, 286 Ga. 16, 19-20 (4) (c) (685 S.E.2d 266) (2009). The statute invoked by the petitioners, OCGA § 16-5-94 (d), provides, in relevant part, that a "court may grant a protective order or approve a consent agreement to bring about a cessation of conduct constituting stalking. Orders or agreements may . . . [a]ward costs and attorney's fees to either party[.]" OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3).

When we interpret any statute, we necessarily begin our analysis with familiar and binding canons of construction. In considering the meaning of a statute, our charge as an appellate court is to presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant. Toward that end, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary meaning, consider the text contextually, read the text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would, and seek to avoid a construction that makes some language mere surplusage. And when the language of a statute is plain and susceptible to only one natural and reasonable construction, courts must construe the statute accordingly. Finally, because any statute that provides for the award of attorney fees is in derogation of common law, it must be strictly construed against the award of such damages.

(Punctuation and footnotes omitted.) Kemp v. Kemp, 337 Ga.App. 627, 632-633 (788 S.E.2d 517) (2016) (construing attorney fee provision in OCGA § 53-12-302). OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) provides that a stalking protective order may award costs and attorney fees; it does not expressly provide that a separate order issued post-appeal may award costs and appellate attorney fees.

         Our appellate courts have held that some attorney fee statutes authorize an award of appellate attorney fees and that other statutes do not. We have held that "neither OCGA § 9-15-14 (b) nor OCGA § 13-6-11 authorizes a trial court to award expenses of litigation for proceedings before the appellate courts, because these statutes base the award of litigation expenses upon conduct that occurred at the trial court level." (Citation and ...


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