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Paying for the Other Guy: How to Appeal Attorney Fee Awards

Losing hurts, and it hurts even worse when you get saddled with the other guy’s attorney’s bill.  Here’s how and when you can appeal attorney fee awards.

APPEALING INTERLOCUTORY AWARDS

If the lower court awards the other side attorney fees before entry of a final judgment, the order is interlocutory.  This means it cannot be appealed until the entry of a final judgment in the case.  See Allen v. Nelson, 126 Nev. 688, 367 P.3d 744 (2010) (dismissing an appeal of an interlocutory award of attorney fees, taken prior to entry of a final judgment).  To determine when a judgment is considered final, please read this.

Once a final judgment has been entered, the attorney fee award can be contested on appeal along with any other issues.

ATTORNEY FEE AWARDS AFTER JUDGMENT

Attorney fee awards after entry of a final judgment are independently appealable as a “special order after judgment.”  NRAP 3A(b)(8); see also Lytle v. Rosemere Estates Prop. Owners, 129 Nev. 923, 925-26, 314 P.3d 946, 948 (2013).  This means that appeals from these awards must be filed within thirty (30) days of the notice of entry of order awarding attorney fees.  Winston Prods. Co. v. DeBoer, 122 Nev. 517, 525, 134 P.3d 726, 731 (2006).

Like final judgments, the time period to file these appeals can be tolled by a “tolling motion” filed under NRAP 4.  A “tolling motion” includes motions for reconsideration of the attorney fee award.  Id.

AMENDED NOTICES OF APPEAL, AMENDED JUDGMENTS, AND SEPARATE APPEALS

If you receive a final judgment while a motion for attorney fees is still pending, that motion for fees does not toll your time to file an appeal of the final judgment.  You must file within thirty (30) days.

What happens if you appeal a final judgment, only to be hit later with an attorney fee award that you also want to appeal?  It depends on what the district court does.

If the district court amends the final judgment you have already appealed, you must file an amended notice of appeal noting the amended judgment.  But, if the district court simply enters an order awarding attorney fees, or enters a separate judgment, you must file a separate appeal of these awards.  Campos-Garcia v. Johnson, 130 Nev. 610, 611-12, 331 P.3d 890, 891 (2014).  You will be asked to notify the Court of related appeals in both the case appeal statement and the docketing statement, and the Supreme Court Clerk will consolidate these appeals.

DENIAL OF ATTORNEY FEE MOTIONS

The flip side of this coin are those aggrieved by a district court’s denial of a motion for attorney fees.  The rules set forth above generally apply.  If a final judgment has not been entered, you cannot appeal the order denying your request until a final judgment is entered. If you are the respondent, you can file a cross-appeal after final judgment to address the denial of your fees.  If you are the appellant, you simply take the issue up with your other issues on appeal.

If the order is entered after a final judgment, you must file a separate notice of appeal unless you can timely file a cross-appeal.

At the end of the day, you have to pay a lawyer if you want to litigate.  Hopefully, the lawyer you pay is your own.