The Texas Supreme Court recently narrowed the right to attorney’s fees based on uncontroverted evidence. The Court held that compentent, uncontroverted, unchallenged evidence of attorney’s fees does not entitle a party to an award of attorney’s fees as a matter of law. Distinguishing its opinion in Ragsdale v. Progressive Voters League, the Court held that under the well-known factors set forth in Arthur Anderson & Co. v. Perry Equip. Corp., the factfinder (here a jury) was free to award a lesser amount of fees considering "the amount involved and the results obtained."
In one bright spot for clients and counsel, the Court did note that the jury was not free to award zero attorney’s fees stating:
Although it could have rationally concluded that, in light of the amount involved and results obtained, a reasonable fee award was less that the full amount sought, no evidence supported the jury’s refusal to award any fees.
The Court remanded the case for a new trial on attorney’s fees. No word on how much is reasonable or whether a formula taking into account the amount invovled and amount incurred should be employed. It is also unclear why a defendant found liable should benefit from requiring a plaintiff to incur high fees to recover a small amount. From this opinion, we know that a court may not award attorney’s as a matter of law and the jury cannot award zero attorney’s fees. Until further notice, it seems anything in between remains in play. The Court’s opinion in Smith v. Patrick W.Y. Tam Trust can be found here.