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Melton v. Frigidaire

February 24, 2004

[5] ELLA MELTON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
FRIGIDAIRE AND BEST BUY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John G. Laurie, Judge Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Wolfson

[8]  This case began as a dispute about a recalcitrant refrigerator. It now presents us with a fee-shifting issue that is a matter of first impression in the courts of this State: whether a party to a settlement agreement is a "prevailing party" entitled to attorney's fees and costs under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty -- Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) (15 U.S.C. §2301 et seq. (1994)). The trial court found the settling plaintiff was a prevailing party and awarded attorney fees and costs to plaintiff's attorney. We affirm and remand.

[9]  FACTS

[10]   Plaintiff Ella Melton sued defendants, Frigidaire and Best Buy, under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act for defects in a refrigerator she purchased from defendants in 1996. In her complaint, plaintiff alleged the refrigerator was defective, and the defect had not been cured after several repair attempts by the manufacturer, Frigidaire. Plaintiff alleged she revoked her acceptance of the refrigerator in writing after a reasonable number of repair attempts. The complaint stated claims for breach of written warranty, breach of implied warranty, and revocation of acceptance.

[11]   On February 20, 2003, the parties settled the lawsuit, one day before a scheduled mandatory arbitration. Defendants agreed to refund plaintiff the purchase price of the refrigerator and service contract, a total of $531.92. Plaintiff was allowed to keep the refrigerator. The parties agreed the trial court would determine whether plaintiff's attorneys were entitled to attorney fees and the reasonableness of such fees. The terms of the settlement agreement were memorialized in a February 20, 2003, letter from plaintiff's attorney to defendants' attorneys. The letter was made part of the record through an attachment to plaintiff's petition for attorney fees and costs. We assume the attachment made the trial court aware of the terms of the settlement agreement. The agreement was before the court.

[12]   On February 26, 2003, plaintiff filed a petition for attorney fees and costs in the amount of $4,131.90. Defendants filed a response, contending plaintiff was not entitled to attorney fees because there was no breach of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and because plaintiff was not a "prevailing party" under the Act.

[13]   Section 2310(d)(2) of the Act provides:

[14]  
"If a consumer finally prevails in any action brought under paragraph (1) of this subsection, he may be allowed by the court to recover as part of the judgment a sum equal to the aggregate amount of cost and expenses (including attorneys' fees based on actual time expended) determined by the court to have been reasonably incurred by the plaintiff for or in connection with the commencement and prosecution of such action, unless the court in its discretion shall determine that such an award of attorneys' fees would be inappropriate." 15 U.S.C. §2310(d)(2) (1994).

[15]   On April 15, 2003, the trial court awarded attorney fees in the amount of $2,603 and costs in the amount of $196.90 to be paid by defendants to Krohn & Moss, Ltd. The order read:

[16]  
"This cause coming to be heard on Plaintiff's Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs, all parties having notice and the Court being fully advised in the premises; IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

[17]   1) The DWP entered on 4/14/03 is hereby vacated;

[18]  
2) This matter is dismissed pursuant to settlement with the Court to retain jurisdiction in order to enforce the terms of the settlement;
[19]  
3) Plaintiff's Petition for Attorneys' Fees is granted in part and denied in part. This Honorable Court awards attorneys' fees to Krohn & Moss in the amount of $2,603.00 and costs in the amount of $196.90 to be paid by Defendants to Krohn & Moss, Ltd."

[20]   Defendants appeal the award of attorney fees and costs. If plaintiff prevails on appeal, she asks us to remand the case to the circuit court to petition ...


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