No Prevailing Party Leads to No Fee Award in Dairy Farm Nuisance Suit

On Thursday, the Nevada State Court of Appeals held that when it comes to court costs and attorneys’ fees that the “winner takes it all” but a tie gets a litigant nothing. The court ruled against both parties in a dairy farm nuisance suit holding that state law required a “prevailing party” before costs and fees would be ordered.

In 2017, a group of homeowners residing near a dairy farm, Smith Valley Dairy, noticed an offensive odor and brought a nuisance suit against the farm “based on the lights, particulate matter, smells, and sounds emanating from…the farm.” In response, Smith Valley filed a counterclaim for “abuse of process, contending that the plaintiffs were malicious in bringing their nuisance claim, and…civil conspiracy, contending that the plaintiffs conspired together in a concerted action to file a malicious nuisance claim.”

After three weeks of trial by jury, the deliberations resulted in an unequivocal tie as described by the judge: “The jury returned verdicts against the McLeod plaintiffs on their nuisance claim and against Smith Valley Dairy on its civil conspiracy claim. The district court also directed a verdict against Smith Valley Dairy on its abuse of process claim. Neither party was awarded money damages.” As a result, the trial court determined that neither party prevailed and thus the awarding of fees and costs was inappropriate given that jointly denied motions meant “both parties’ successful defenses were equivalent.”

Nev. Rev. Stat. 18.010 gives a trial judge the discretion to award attorneys’ fees and court costs to a prevailing party in a suit involving a judgment where monetary damages were awarded. The appellate court held that neither party met this legal standard as all legal claims were denied and that to be a prevailing party one must prove that one succeeded “on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit it brought in bringing suit.” This success on a significant issue, the court concluded, cannot be met by a party in litigation where all asserted legal claims on both sides lacked merit.