Appeal Court Can Award More Attorney Fees Than Lower Court Authorized

Minnesota case law summary: Attorney fees on appeal.

State of Minnesota v. Artiase Dvon Williams. MN Attorney Fees On Appeal

Artiase Dvon Williams was charged with carrying a pistol into a public place without a permit and driving after suspension. The trial court suppressed the gun from evidence, and the State appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On April 8, 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. The defendant's attorney filed a motion with the Court of Appeals, seeking $3,636 in attorney fees, which represented 30.3 hours of work at $120 per hour, and the Court of Appeals approved this amount.

The State appealed this order to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The State argued that the amount should have been limited to the $50-per-hour rate set in a standing order the Chief Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, for that portion of the work the attorney performed after the Chief Judge’s order. That order had established a reimbursement rate of $50 per hour for attorney fees in State’s pretrial appeals. The defendant's attorney argued that the statute under which the order was signed improperly divests the appellate courts of authority to review orders that chief judges enter under the statute.

The Minnesota Supreme Court first noted, under an earlier precedent, that the appellate jurisdiction of the appellate courts must be "free from encroachment by the governor or the legislature, except only as there or elsewhere limited by the constitution." Therefore, it held that it had authority to review the amount of the fee.

Even though the Chief Judge's order stated that it was made after consultation with attorneys, it did not state the basis for how the $50 fee was set. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals had acted within its discretion in setting the amount at $120, notwithstanding the order from the lower court. For that reason, it affirmed the Court of Appeals.

No. A12-1719 (Minn. Feb. 5, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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