When does a prevailing party have to apply for an award of attorney's fees in Connecticut state court? Lawyers received an answer from the Connecticut Appellate Court last week in Meadowbrook Center, Inc. v. Buchman. You can read the decision here. We've discussed attorney's fees before, which you can read here and here. Connecticut attorneys follow the Practice Book, which contains our rules of civil procedure. A particular rule, Practice Book Section 11-21, says that any application for attorney's fees "shall" be filed within 30 days of the final judgment. This means if you win your case and a contract or statute says you can recover your attorney's fees from the other side, you need to file your application in that 30 day window. Typically the word "shall" is mandatory, but in this case the appellate court held that "shall" is directory. Interpretation: You should file your application within the 30 day window but if you don't, you are not completely out of luck.
The opinion seems to say that the trial judge has discretion to grant an attorney's fee application filed after the 30 day deadline has passed, but that a "long delay" between judgment and the application would likely be grounds to deny the application. Also, if the other side claims prejudice - and can back that up - the trial court can deny the application. The opinion in Meadowbrook Center dealt with a statute that awards attorney's fees to a victorious consumer when the contract between the consumer and the company provides for attorney's fees to only the company. This played a role in the appellate court's opinion such that one could read it to mean the opinion applies to only cases under that statute. I don't think such a restrictive reading though is correct, and any application for attorney's fees, under any statute such as Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act, may still survive if filed past the 30 day deadline.
LESSON LEARNED: Know whether you have a legitimate claim for attorney's fees if you win, and file your application right away. If you miss the 30 day deadline, however, you still may be able to convince the trial court to award fees. If you are acting as local counsel to out-of-state counsel, be sure to advise them of this rule.