Attorney’s Fees Awarded for Frivolous Appeal In Pennsylvania Custody Case

Cooley & Handy’s attorneys successfully convinced the Superior Court of Pennsylvania to sustain a Bucks County trial court’s award of attorney’s fees and to award their client additional attorneys’ fees for having to litigate a frivolous appeal.

The parties in the case were involved in a highly contentious divorce. As part of the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement resolving the equitable distribution matters related to their divorce, husband was to cooperate in all aspects of the sale of the parties’ marital residence. Husband, however, in violation of the terms of the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement, “engaged in dilatory tactics and erected barriers to the sale of the marital property.” In response, wife filed a Petition for Contempt.

After a hearing on wife’s petition, the trial court found husband, who is also a practicing attorney in Bucks County, in contempt of the Property Settlement Agreement and awarded wife attorney’s fees.

Husband appealed the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

On appeal, Husband argued, among other things, that the trial court’s finding of contempt and award of attorney’s fees was based upon its “partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will” towards him and constituted an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. In response, Cooley & Handy argued that Husband’s conduct throughout the parties’ divorce litigation supported the trial court’s finding of contempt and award of attorney’s fees. Cooley & Handy further argued that Husband’s arguments in his frivolous appeal contained “false, irrelevant, unsupported and unethical accusations,” and, as a result, Wife should be awarded additional attorney’s fees for having to litigate the appeal. The Superior Court agreed.

The Superior Court found that Husband asserted false accusations against Wife, as well as “disparaging, inaccurate, and unethical mischaracterizations of the trial court” in his brief. It also noted that the trial court had previously warned Husband against casting such inaccurate and inflammatory accusations, even threatening to report Husband, a licensed attorney, to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board for such conduct. Finally, the appellate court found that Husband had continued his “obdurate and vexatious” conduct on appeal, warranting the imposition of additional sanctions.

As a result, the Superior Court not only sustained the trial court’s original award of attorney’s fees, but also, in an unusual move, awarded Cooley & Handy’s client, wife, additional reasonable attorneys’ fees for having to litigate the frivolous appeal.