from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CV 2015-002890
The Honorable Daniel G. Martin, Judge
East Valley Law Firm, Chandler By Daryl R. Wilson Counsel for
MacQueen & Gottlieb, PLC, Phoenix By Benjamin L.
Gottlieb, Patrick R. MacQueen Counsel for
Presiding Judge Michael J. Brown delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Judge Maria Elena Cruz and Judge Maurice
Portley  joined.
The issue we address is whether a party who prevails on quiet
title claims but loses on other claims or defenses is
nonetheless eligible to recover attorneys' fees under
Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section
12-1103(B). For the following reasons, we conclude that the
statute's prevailing-party determination is controlled by
whomever prevails on the quiet title claims, and that
non-quiet title claims are relevant only for purposes of
deciding whether, in the court's discretion,
attorneys' fees should be awarded and in what amount.
Gregory Cook and Cynthia Grebe are neighboring property
owners. Cook filed a complaint in superior court
alleging he adversely possessed Grebe's property by using
and maintaining it for more than 15 years. Cook also alleged
that Grebe's failure to maintain and secure the property
created a private nuisance. Grebe filed counterclaims
alleging quiet title, conversion, unjust enrichment, and
trespass. After considering competing motions for summary
judgment, the superior court granted partial summary judgment
in favor of Cook on Grebe's conversion counterclaim.
Near the end of the jury trial on the remaining claims, the
superior court struck Grebe's unjust enrichment claim.
The jury found in Grebe's favor on her quiet title
counterclaim and Cook's adverse possession claim, and in
Cook's favor on his private nuisance claim and
Grebe's trespass counterclaim. The court then determined
that Grebe was "the prevailing party for purposes of the
adverse possession and quiet title claims" and stated
she could file an application for attorneys' fees.
Grebe requested attorneys' fees in the amount of $82,
726.75, which Cook opposed, asserting Grebe was not entitled
to recover fees for claims on which she did not prevail. In
its ruling, the court explained that Grebe was "deemed
the prevailing party in this matter for purposes of A.R.S.
§ 12-1103" and entered a fee award of $50, 000.
This timely appeal followed.
Generally, a court may award attorneys' fees only when
authorized by statute or by agreement of the parties.
Taylor v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 130 Ariz. 516, 523
(1981) (citation omitted). As provided in A.R.S. §
12-1103(B), a party prevailing in a quiet title action may
recover attorneys' fees if, 20 days before bringing the
action, he or she tendered five dollars with a request that
the other party execute a quit claim deed, and the other
party did not comply. See Lange v. Lotzer, 151 Ariz.
260, 262 (App. 1986) ("The Arizona Legislature has
expressly determined that only a prevailing party who follows
certain prerequisites may recover attorney's fees in
quiet title actions."). Although § 12-1103(B) only
refers to a "plaintiff," a defendant who
successfully asserts a quiet title counterclaim may seek
attorneys' fees. See Long v. Clark, 226 Ariz.
95-96, ¶¶ 1, 2 (App. 2010) (reversing a fee award
to defendants in a quiet title action because, although they
successfully defended, they did not file a counterclaim). It
is undisputed that Cook and Grebe each complied with §
12-1103(B)'s prerequisites for recovering attorneys'
We review the superior court's determination of who is
the prevailing party, for purposes of awarding attorneys'
fees, for an abuse of discretion. Sanborn v. Brooker
& Wake Prop. Mgmt., Inc.,178 Ariz. 425, 430 (App.
1994). We review the interpretation of a statute de novo, and
when doing so, our goal "is to effectuate the text if it
is clear and unambiguous." BSI Holdings, LLC v.
Ariz. Dep't of Transp.,244 Ariz. 17, 19, ¶ 9
(2018). A statute's words should be read in context to
determine their meaning. Stambaugh v. Killian, ...