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Court Reviews Attorneys’ Fees Award in Consumer Fraud Claim

In McKinstry v. Fecteau Residential Homes, Inc., 2015 VT 125 (September 18, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s decisions on a consumer fraud claim and award of attorneys’ fees, but reversed a decision regarding a credit towards the fees award.

Issue: Buyer was awarded $1,000 in damages in a consumer fraud claim and a significantly reduced attorneys’ fees award largely due to the lack of results obtained in the case. The trial court then deducted $5,000 from the reduced attorneys’ fees award for a refund the buyer received when the seller rescinded the contract. Buyer appealed the reduction in their attorneys’ fees and seller appealed the denial of their motions for summary judgment and judgment as a matter of law on the consumer fraud claim.

Holding: The Court held there was sufficient evidence to find a misrepresentation or omission of material fact, so the seller’s motions for summary judgment and judgment as a matter of law were properly denied. It upheld the initial reduction of the attorneys’ fees. It held that the trial court properly recognized that an attorneys’ fees award is mandatory and was allowed to consider the results obtained in the litigation in determining the reasonableness of the amount of the award. It found that the trial court did not improperly require that plaintiff accomplish a broader public purpose in order to award fees, but rather considered this in the context of the reasonableness of the fee award. Lastly, it reversed the deduction of the $5,000 refund as there was no basis for it and it did not pose a risk of double recovery.

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