United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
Cases: 2:12cv596, 2:14cvl78
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Raymond A. Jackson District Judge.
the Court is LPC Property Management, Inc.'s
("Defendant") Motion for Attorneys' Fees. ECF
No. 988. Defendant requests attorneys' fees and expenses
as a result of the jury returning a verdict in favor of
Defendants on the breach of contract claim. Also before the
Court is Plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees in
responding to Defendant's motion. These matters have been
fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. A hearing will
not aid judicial determination. For the reasons set forth
herein, Defendant's Motion for Attorneys' Fees is
DENIED and Plaintiffs' request for
attorneys' fees is GRANTED.
January 11, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against
Defendants in the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk. On
February 10, 2012, Defendants removed the action to this
Court. A civil jury trial for this matter began on March 29,
2016. On April 14, 2016, after a twelve day trial, the jury
returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants on the breach
of contract claim and against Defendant Mid-Atlantic Military
Family Communities, LLC on the negligence per se claim. The
jury awarded Plaintiff Joe Federico $200, 000 and Plaintiff
Shelley Federico $150, 000 dollars for the negligence per se
claim. Judgment was entered on April 19, 2016. ECF No. 983.
timely filed the instant motion on May 3, 2016. ECF No. 988.
Plaintiffs filed their Response in Opposition on May 18,
2016. ECF No. 997. Defendant filed its Reply on May 26, 2016.
ECF No. 1002. Defendant requests $897, 062.75 in fees for
successfully defending a breach of contract claim brought by
the Plaintiffs. Defendant claims it is entitled to
attorneys' fees pursuant to the Virginia Residential
Landlord and Tenant Act ("VRLTA") and because of a
provision in the lease providing: "If any legal action
or proceeding is brought by either party to enforce any part
of this Lease, the prevailing party will recover, in addition
to all other relief, reasonable attorneys' fees and
costs." Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Att'y
Fees 3, ECF No. 989. Plaintiff counters that the VRLTA does
not authorize lease provisions requiring tenants to pay
attorneys' fees, and nonetheless, Defendant was a
managing agent and not a party to the lease. Plaintiffs
request $4, 500 in attorneys' fees at a rate of $450 per
hour incurred in opposing Defendant's fee request.
VRLTA applies to all rental agreements entered into in
Virginia on or after July 1, 1974. Va. Code §
55-248.3:1. Pursuant to the VRLTA, a tenant or landlord that
successfully challenges compliance with a lease may recover
reasonable attorneys' fees. See Va. Code §
55-248.21 (noting that if the landlord breaches the lease or
fails to comply with the VRLTA, "[t]he tenant shall be
entitled to recover reasonable attorneys' fees unless the
landlord proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the
landlord's actions were reasonable under the
circumstances"); Va. Code § 55-248.31 (noting that
a landlord may recover reasonable attorneys' fees
"in the event of a breach of the rental agreement or
noncompliance by the tenant").
the VRLTA prohibits a lease term in which a tenant agrees to
pay a landlord's attorneys' fees. Va. Code §
55-248.9 ("A. A rental agreement shall not contain
provisions that the tenant: ... 4. Agrees to pay the
landlord's attorney's fees except as provided in this
chapter."). The VRLTA also provides, "B. A
provision prohibited by subsection A included in a rental
agreement is unenforceable. If a landlord brings an action to
enforce any of the prohibited provisions, the tenant may
recover actual damages sustained by him and reasonable
attorney's fees." Va. Code § 55-248.9.
cites West Square, L.L.C. v. Communication Techs.,
Inc., 274 Va. 425, 433 (2007) for the principle that
when there is a contractual provision providing for
attorneys' fees, a prevailing party is generally entitled
to recover attorneys' fees. Notably, that case involved a
commercial real estate lease where a landlord sought
attorneys' fees after prevailing on a breach of lease
claim brought against a tenant. In contrast, this matter
involves a residential lease and the Defendant seeks
attorneys' fees for prevailing on a breach of lease claim
brought by the tenants. Defendant does not cite any case
where a landlord was awarded attorneys' fees for
defending a claim brought by a tenant.
also cites Va. Code § 55-248.21 and § 55-248.31 of
the VRLTA as providing for the recovery of attorneys'
fees for a tenant or landlord that succeeds on a claim under
the lease. These sections provide for attorneys' fees
when a tenant or landlord successfully challenges the other
party's compliance with the lease, not for a party
successfully defending a claim brought against it. Further,
as noted above, the VRLTA expressly prohibits lease terms
requiring tenants to pay a landlord's attorneys'
fees, except for when a landlord successfully challenges a
tenant's compliance with a lease, and designates such a
term unenforceable. Accordingly, the provision in the lease
requiring Plaintiffs to pay attorneys' fees is
unenforceable as it is contrary to the VRLTA.
LPC Property Management, Inc. is a managing agent for the
landlord Defendant Mid-Atlantic Military Family Communities,
LLC. The Court held that Defendant LPC Property Management,
Inc. was a proper party under the breach of lease claim based
on Va. Code § 8.01-226.12 and the VRLTA. Trial Tr.
1987-1994, ECF No. 964; Trial Tr. 2030:8-14, ECF No. 972. The
VRLTA is incorporated in the lease agreement and cross
references Va. Code § 8.01-226.12 with respect to the
duty of a landlord and managing agent for visible mold. Va.
Code § 55-248.11:2. Irrespective of Defendant's
status as a party to the lease, Defendant may not obtain
relief as an agent for the landlord which the landlord is
prohibited from obtaining by the VRLTA's prohibition of a
lease term requiring a tenant to pay the landlord's
attorneys' fees. The Court will not award Defendant its
excessive request for attorneys' fees pursuant to a
clause in the lease that is clearly contrary to the VRLTA.
Accordingly, Defendant's Motion for Attorneys' Fees
other hand, the Court approves Plaintiffs' fee request.
Here it is clear the landlord, through its agent, has
attempted to obtain attorneys' fees in violation of the
VRLTA. The VRLTA provides that a tenant may recover damages
and reasonable attorneys' fees if a landlord brings an
action to enforce a prohibited provision in a lease. Va. Code
§ 55-248.9. The Court finds Plaintiffs' request for
$4, 500 in attorneys' ...