Vega v. Sullivan

In Vega v. Sullivan, 199 Ariz. 504, 507, P 8, 19 P.3d 645, 648 (App. 2001), parties involved in a motor vehicle accident were referred to compulsory arbitration where the plaintiffs prevailed and were awarded, in total, $ 10,982.74. Vega, 199 Ariz. at 505, P 2, 19 P.3d at 646. The award included their taxable costs of $ 382.74. Id. The defendant appealed from the award and, following a jury trial, judgment was entered against her in the total amount of $ 9920.74. Id. at 505-06, P 3, 19 P.3d at 646-47. The judgment included the plaintiffs' taxable costs of $ 420.74. Id. at 506, P 3, 19 P.3d at 647. The plaintiffs moved for an award of attorneys' fees and expert witness fees pursuant to the former version of Rule 77(f). Id. at P 5; see also Ariz. R. Civ. P. 77(f). The trial court concluded that taxable costs were to be included when comparing the arbitration award and judgment. Vega, 199 Ariz. at 506, P 6, 19 P.3d at 647. As a result, the judgment was not sufficiently more favorable to allow the defendant to avoid the fees sanction. Id. The court therefore granted the plaintiffs' motion and entered a separate judgment against the defendant for the plaintiffs' attorneys' and expert witness fees. Id. at P 4. The defendant appealed that judgment and argued that the court erred when it considered the taxable costs portions of the arbitration award and judgment and, had it not done so, she would not be liable for costs and fees under the rule. Id. at P 7. On appeal, we held that the wording of the rule was "clear and unambiguous" and that the terms "arbitration award" and "judgment" included any amount of awarded taxable costs. Id. at 507-08, PP 9-10, 19 P.3d at 648-49. The Court held that "the reference to 'arbitration award' in the . . . Rules includes taxable costs." Id. at 507, P 9, 19 P.3d at 648. Further, we reasoned that the term "judgment" is a "technical term of art with specific meaning in Arizona law and practice," and that the judgment in that case, on its face, included both the damage award and the plaintiffs' taxable costs. Vega, 199 Ariz. at 507, P 10, 19 P.3d at 648.