De Novo Standard Of Review For Attorney Fee Award, Abuse Of Discretion For Reasonableness Of Award

Shoreline Towers Condominium Association sued Debra Gassman, claiming she “waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Shoreline.” Gassman had sued Shoreline, and had filed complaints with government agencies, asserting the association had engaged in religious discrimination. The dispute arose when Shoreline removed a mezuzah Gassman placed at the doorpost at the entrance of her apartment.

Gassman asked the trial court to dismiss Shoreline’s case because, she argued, it was prohibited by the Illinois Citizen Participation Act. The trial court agreed in large part, and dismissed most of Shoreline’s case. The court ruled that the Participation Act required Shoreline to pay Gassman’s attorney fees incurred in asking for the dismissal.

The dispute is backdrop for the appellate court’s rulings on the standard of review for an award of attorney fees, which Shoreline appealed. The First District Illinois Appellate Court distinguished between review of the order awarding the fees and of the amount of the award.

There are two orders at issue here. The first … determined that an award of attorney fees was proper [under the Act] … Our review of this order is de novo …Our review of the second order at issue, the final fee order which determined the dollar amount of the award, is abuse of discretion … Accordingly, we will reverse the amount of attorney fees only if no reasonable person would make the same decision as the trial court.

In the end, the appellate court agreed that certain of Shoreline’s claims were properly dismissed, and that the award of attorney fees was proper. Read the whole case, Shoreline Towers Condominium Association v. Gassman, Nos. 1-08-2438, 1-09-2180 (9/30/10), by clicking here.