Legal Memorandum: Recovery of Attorney Fees in MN

Issue: Under what circumstances may a party recover attorney fees in Minnesota?

Area of Law: Business Organizations & Contracts, Litigation & Procedure, Municipal, County and Local Law
Keywords: Attorney fees recovery; Contract or by statute
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 318 N.W.2d 844; 383 N.W.2d 436; 298 N.W.2d 763; 135 N.W.2d 681; 290 Minn. 371; 336 N.W.2d 46; 188 N.W.2d 424
Cited Statutes: Attorneys' Fees § 9:39, § 9:37, § 5:3; Minn. Stat. § 176.081, § 582.01
Date: 05/01/2011

Minnesota law provides that a party may recover attorney fees when they are authorized either by contract or by statute.  Barr/Nelson, Inc. v. Tonto’s, Inc., 336 N.W.2d 46, 53 (Minn. 1983); accord Fownes v. Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., 310 Minn. 540, 542, 246 N.W.2d 700, 702 (Minn. 1976). 

When a contract containing a provision for attorney’s fees does not specify the amount of such fees in terms of either a fixed sum or of a certain percentage of the balance due on the contract, or when it provides merely for the payment of “reasonable” attorney’s fees, the party seeking fees must introduce evidence from which the reasonableness of the fee may be determined.  See 1 Robert L. Rossi, Attorneys’ Fees § 9:39 (2010).  Courts may rely on their own experience and knowledge of prevailing rates in determining what rate is reasonable.  See id. § 9:37 (stating that “the trial . . . courts are themselves experts on the question of attorney’s fees and may consider their own knowledge and use their independent judgment, with or without witnesses as to value”). 

The court should consider all relevant circumstances in determining a reasonable fee, including the labor required in the case; the nature and difficulty of the responsibility assumed; the amount of money involved and the results obtained; the fees customarily charged for similar legal services; and the experience, reputation, and ability of counsel.  State ex rel. Head v. Paulson, 290 Minn. 371, 373,