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Ocracomax, LLC v. Davis

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 21, 2017

OCRACOMAX, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER M. DAVIS and wife, JENNIFER L. DAVIS; OCRACOKE HORIZONS UNIT OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 16 October 2017.

         Appeal by Defendants from order entered 12 October 2016 and order entered 2 February 2017 by Judge Wayland J. Sermons, Jr., in Hyde County No. 15 CVS 16 Superior Court.

          Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, LLP, by L. Phillip Hornthal, III, for the Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Nexsen Pruet PLLC, by Norman W. Shearin, for the Defendants-Appellants.

          DILLON, Judge.

         Christopher M. Davis and Jennifer L. Davis (the "Davis Defendants") appeal the trial court's order dismissing their appeal from a decision on the Ocracomax, LLC, ("Plaintiff") Motion for Costs in the underlying action. The Davis Defendants argue that their appeal was meritorious, in that the order granting trial costs to Plaintiff (1) improperly assigned said costs to them alone, and not to all the defendants; and (2) included costs incurred by Plaintiff in a prior appeal. After careful review, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff and the Davis Defendants are each residents of a condominium complex overseen by Defendant Ocracoke Horizons Unit Owners Association, Inc. (the "HOA Defendant"). In February 2015, Plaintiff filed the underlying action against all Defendants, seeking a declaratory judgment stating its right to a parking space in a shared garage. After considering the briefs and pleadings, the trial court issued an order granting Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and taxing costs to Defendants (the "Judgment"), which our Court later affirmed in a prior appeal in this matter.

         Plaintiff filed a Motion to Determine Costs. The trial court entered an order determining Plaintiff's costs in the underlying action (the "Costs Order"). In the Costs Order, the trial court taxed all of Plaintiff's fees throughout trial and the first appeal to the Davis Defendants alone.

         The Davis Defendants filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, requesting that our Court review the Costs Order. We allowed Defendant's petition, and now consider their appeal.

         II. Analysis

         The Davis Defendants challenge the costs assigned by the trial court in two respects: First, the Davis Defendants argue that the trial court erred in taxing costs and attorney's fees against them, but not against the HOA Defendant. Second, Defendants allege that the trial court improperly included attorney's fees incurred on appeal in its award to Plaintiff. We address each argument in turn.

         A trial court's grant of attorney's fees, supported by statutory authority, will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion. Buford v. Gen. Motors Corp., 339 N.C. 396, 406, 451 S.E.2d 293, 298 (1994). We review the trial court's decision only to determine if its "ruling was manifestly unsupported by reason and could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." Old Republic Nat'l Title Ins. Co. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., ___ N.C. ___, ___, 797 S.E.2d 264, 269 (2017).

         The Davis Defendants contend that the trial court abused its discretion by taxing costs and attorney's fees solely against the Davis Defendants, because the Cost Order was contradictory to the "law of the case" established in the first appeal, where we affirmed the trial court's order granting Plaintiff judgment on the pleadings, including costs, against all Defendants. See N.C. Nat'l Bank v. Va. Carolina Builders, 307 N.C. 563, 566, 299 S.E.2d 629, 631 (1983) ("Once an appellate court has ruled on a question, that decision becomes the law of the case and governs the question not only on remand at trial, but on a subsequent appeal of the same case."). Specifically, the Judgment, which we affirmed in the first appeal, ...


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