This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Times Square Shopping Center, LLP,
Tobacco City, Inc.
now Apple Valley Tobacco, Inc.,
Filed October 3, 2000
Dakota County District Court
File No. C0-99-7973
Michael L. Perlman, Perlman Law Office, 1660 South Highway 100, 333 Parkdale Plaza, St. Louis Park, MN 55416 (for respondent)
Douglas W. Thomson, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite W-1260, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.
Respondent sued appellant for damages and attorney fees arising from a prior unlawful detainer action, including attorney fees and costs arising from the appeal of the unlawful detainer proceeding. The district court awarded respondent attorney fees and costs for the prior action and appeal, as well as the current proceeding, and also awarded damages. Appellant argues that the district court erred in failing to dismiss respondent’s complaint because the claims for attorney fees and costs did not state a claim on which relief could be granted, and the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims for attorney fees and costs arising out of the appeal. We affirm.
Respondent/landlord Times Square Shopping Center (Times Square) and appellant/tenant Tobacco City, Inc. (Tobacco City) entered into a lease on August 1, 1996, which was to commence on September 1, 1996, and run through August 31, 2001. The lease contained a clause pertaining to the payment of the landlord’s expenses and damages:
25.02 Landlord’s Expenses and Damages. Landlord, in every case, shall be entitled to recover from Tenant all of Landlord’s expenses, costs and damages arising out of any event of default, including, but not limited to, advertising, brokerage fees, clean-up, repair, alterations, refurnishing, refurbishing, custodial and security expenses.
The lease also contained a clause pertaining to the payment of attorney fees:
32.05 Attorney’s Fees. In the event of any action or proceeding brought by either party against the other under this Lease or any guarantee of this lease, the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover attorney’s fees in such amount as the court may judge reasonable.
Following Tobacco City’s failure to pay rent and to vacate the property after receiving notice to do so, the district court entered a judgment restoring possession of the leased premises to Times Square and awarding it costs and disbursements of $227. Tobacco City appealed the unlawful detainer judgment; this court affirmed, and the supreme court denied review. Times Square Shopping Ctr. v Tobacco City, Inc., 585 N.W.2d 791 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Jan. 21, 1999). Tobacco City remained in the leased premises until February 5, 1999, at which time it had exhausted all of its appeal rights. Times Square then filed a complaint seeking, pursuant to the lease, costs and attorney fees on the underlying unlawful detainer action, costs and attorney fees incurred on the appeal, holdover rent, damages for repair of the premises, and costs and disbursements incurred in pursuing the complaint.
After a court trial, the district court dismissed Times Square’s claim for additional rent, but concluded that Times Square was entitled to judgment against Tobacco City for all costs (other than the $227 previously awarded in the unlawful detainer action), attorney fees, and damages sought. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from a judgment where there has been no motion for a new trial, the only questions for review are whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and whether such findings sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment.
Erickson v. Erickson, 434 N.W.2d 284, 286 (Minn. App. 1989) (citation omitted). We will not set aside the district court’s findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, unless they are clearly erroneous. Due regard is given to the district court’s opportunity to judge the credibility of witnesses. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. However, we need not defer to the district court’s application of the law. Hubred v. Control Data Corp., 442 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. 1989). On review, we will not reverse a district court’s award of attorney fees absent an abuse of discretion. Becker v. Alloy Hardfacing & Eng’g Co., 401 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Minn. 1987).
I. Failure to State a Claim
Tobacco City argues that because neither the district court nor the appellate court judgments include awards of attorney fees, Times Square improperly presented a cause of action for attorney fees and costs from a prior lawsuit and thus, failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
When reviewing an action dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, this court’s review is de novo and limited to the discrete question of whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Elzie v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980).
The lease signed by Times Square and Tobacco City contains a provision stating that in any action or proceeding brought by either party against the other under the lease, the prevailing party is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees. It is indisputable that Times Square prevailed in the unlawful detainer action and on appeal. Further, the district court found that the parties agreed that the attorney fees and costs claimed by Times Square were reasonable. Attorney fees specifically authorized by contract may be awarded to the prevailing party. Barr/Nelson, Inc. v. Tonto’s, Inc., 336 N.W.2d 46, 53 (Minn. 1983). See also Provident Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Tachtronic Instruments, Inc., 394 N.W.2d 161, 166 (Minn. App. 1986) (stating that where lease entitles party to reasonable attorney fees, such fees are considered part of its damages upon termination of the lease).
Tobacco City asserts that Times Square was required to seek attorney fees as a form of relief in the initial lawsuit. But the initial lawsuit in this case was an unlawful detainer action brought by Times Square. It is a long-standing rule that unlawful detainer actions provide summary proceedings for expedited determination of present possessory rights. Eagan East Ltd. Partnership v. Powers Investigations, Inc., 554 N.W.2d 621, 622 (Minn. App. 1996) (citing Lilyerd v. Carlson, 499 N.W.2d 803, 812 (Minn. 1993)). A district court hearing an unlawful detainer action lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to rule on attorney fees arising from the action. Id. Accordingly, to collect the attorney fees Tobacco City contractually owed, it was necessary for Times Square to bring the claim in a proper proceeding, as it did by filing the complaint in the district court. Because Times Square’s complaint set forth a legally sufficient claim for relief, the district court did not err in refusing to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Tobacco City also asserts that (1) Times Square’s request for attorney fees and costs was untimely, (2) Times Square failed to follow the correct filing procedure, and (3) the doctrine of law of the case prohibited the district court from examining issues determined in the appeal. But because Times Square properly brought this action, we need not address these arguments.
II. Jurisdiction to Award Attorney Fees Arising from the Appeal
Tobacco City further argues that because only the appellate courts have jurisdiction to award costs and fees arising from an appeal, the district court lacked jurisdiction to award such amounts. Whether a district court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a legal question subject to de novo review on appeal. Shaw v. Regents of Univ. of Minn., 594 N.W.2d 187, 190 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999). However, where a determination of the amount of attorney fees involves a detailed factual inquiry, the inquiry is more properly conducted by the district court. See C.J. Duffey Paper Co. v. Reger, 588 N.W.2d 519, 528 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. Apr. 28, 1999). Because Times Square sought attorney fees for the unlawful detainer action, the appeal, and the current action before the district court, it was proper for the district court to determine the total amount owed by Tobacco City under the lease contract. We conclude the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction to award the amounts ordered, including the costs and attorney fees arising from the appeal.