Mohave County v. Ariz. Dep’t Water Res. (6/20/2017)

July 10, 2017

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that the limitation on fees in A.R.S. § 12-348(E)(4) does not apply to an award of attorneys’ fees under A.R.S. § 12-348.01.

Mohave County and the Arizona Department of Water Resources (“ADWR”) litigated and appealed a dispute concerning the transfer of water rights.  The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against Mohave County and awarded attorneys’ fees to ADWR under A.R.S. § 12-348.01.  It remanded to the superior court to determine the amount of the fee award.  ADWR requested $135,000 in fees.  Mohave County argued that A.R.S. § 12-348(E)(4) capped the fee award at $10,000.  The superior court awarded $10,000 in fees and ADWR appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that the $10,000 limit on fees in A.R.S. § 12-348(E)(4) does not apply to fee awards under A.R.S. § 12-348.01.  A.R.S. § 12-348.01 provides that “[n]otwithstanding [A.R.S.] section 12-348,” if a county “files a lawsuit against” a state agency, “the court shall award reasonable attorney fees to the successful party in the action.”  A.R.S. § 12-348(E)(4) provides that “an award of fees against a city, town or county as provided in this section shall not exceed ten thousand dollars.”  The Court of Appeals held that the “notwithstanding” text in A.R.S. § 12-348.01 does not import limits from another section.  Also, the cap in A.R.S. § 12-348(E)(4) is limited to awards provided under that section.  The court remanded for a new determination of fees because the superior court did not expressly accept or rely on the $10,000 statutory limit.

Presiding Judge Thumma authored opinion; Judges Winthrop and Beene concurred.