3 Requirements to Award Attorneys Fees Under the Costs Act

In Reeves v. Pennsylvania Game Commission, 143 Pa. Commw. 76, 598 A.2d 605 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1991), the petitioner applied to the Pennsylvania Game Commission for an award of reasonable attorney fees and expenses pursuant to the Costs Act.

The Game Commission dismissed petitioner's application for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that the latter had not been filed within thirty days after the disposition of the adversary adjudication, and because this Court had not remanded or relinquished jurisdiction to the Game Commission in this matter.

The petitioner thereafter filed a petition for leave to appeal the denial of his Costs Act application for reasonable fees and expenses, which appeal this Court granted.

Reeves contended that he was entitled to an award of attorney fees and expenses because the Game Commission initiated the adversary adjudication by seizing his vehicle and declaring it forfeited after his arrest.

In addressing the claim of entitlement to attorney fees and expenses, this Court provided the following analysis:

In a nutshell, three prerequisites must exist before a party may be awarded attorneys fees and costs under the Costs Act:

(1) the agency must have initiated an adversary adjudication;

(2) the party requesting the award must be a prevailing party;

(3) there must be a determination that the position of the agency was not substantially justified.

Pursuant to Section 2 of the Costs Act, 71 P.S. § 2032, adversary adjudication is defined as an adjudication as defined in 2 Pa.C.S. § 101 (relating to definitions).

Under 2 Pa.C.S. § 101 adjudication is defined as follows:

Any final order, decree, decision, determination or ruling by an agency affecting personal or property rights, privilege, immunities, duties, liabilities, or obligations of any or all of the parties to the proceeding in which the adjudication is made.

The term does not include any order based upon a proceeding before a court or which involves the seizure or forfeiture or property, paroles, pardons or releases from mental institutions. 598 A.2d at 607.