Second District, Division 7 Publishes Decision in Decade Long Battle Arising From Credit Impairment Allegations.
Although too long to recite in detail (43 pages in length), Sanai v. Saltz, Case Nos. B198217 & B202787 (2d Dist., Div. 7 Jan. 26, 2009) (certified for publication) chronicles a donnybrook between a former in pro per renter (a transactional lawyer who learned litigation along the way), credit-reporting service, and landlord over a credit reporting dispute arising out of claimed unpaid rent under $5,000. (Yes, you heard that right.) The case demonstrates the “poof” principle and reinforces that a judgment must award fees in order for the judgment creditor to obtain post-enforcement attorney’s fees by statute.
Click it up; here are the facts.
While a denial of defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion was on appeal, the trial court dismissed renter’s cross-complaint claims, assessing him with costs of $7,248.60 and attorney’s fees of $136,034 (with the fees being 25% of the total sought by all defendants). Renter moved to set aside these awards because the anti-SLAPP appeal stayed everything, a request denied by the trial court but reversed by the appellate court later on—which meant the parties returned to “ground zero.” Renter was awarded costs on appeal, with the appellate court also indicating that the trial court should entertain renter’s requests for restitution of any moneys paid under judicial compulsion. A dispute arose about renter’s efforts to collect appellate costs after judgment, notwithstanding defendants’ tender of the sum—with the trial court ordering renter to sign a judgment satisfaction acknowledgment and awarding defendants $50,501.25 in attorney’s fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 724.080 (fees awardable for failing to comply with judgment satisfaction provisions). The lower court (a different judge this time) dismissed all of renter’s claims, after giving renter leave to amend a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) claim but conditioned on renter producing “admissible evidence” to support the new factual allegations—a condition that renter did not satisfy. Defendants moved for an award of attorney’s fees under FCRA provisions allowing a fee shift where a plaintiff filed papers in bad faith or for harassment purposes. The trial judge awarded defendants $1,003,426.25 in fees under the FCRA provisions. Renter primarily challenged the decisions relating to complaint amendment and the fee awards in yet another appeal.
The appellate court did reverse the trial judge’s conditional grant of leave to amend decision. It found that the “admissible evidence” condition was an unduly restrictive condition. Because of this reversal, the $1 million fee award under FCRA provisions went “poof” (it was premature because no prevailing party could be determined until the whole case was resolved).
That brought the appellate court to the $50,501.25 fee award against renter under CCP section 724.080. This aspect was affirmed because (1) the judgment for costs (of a fairly small amount) did not include an award of attorney’s fees so as to allow fee recovery to renter under section 685.050 (see complimentary decisions in our category “Cases: Judgment Enforcement”), and (2) renter improperly sought to obtain restitution of amounts already paid, even though he had been directed to seek these amount through a noticed motion (rather than costs memorandum) procedure. Defendants’ motion to strike the costs memorandum was a proper procedural vehicle to attack the defective filing.
For another post on this case, see Shaun Martin’s January 26, 2009 post on California Appellate Report, which can be linked at the right side of our home page.
BLOG BONUS COVERAGE—Sanai also has a good discussion of what state statutory and common law claims are preempted or not affected by FCRA.