Second District, Division Two Finds No Abuse of Discretion in Not Awarding $300,670 in Attorney's Fees to Winning Teacher.
The next case concerns a statutory fee-shifting statute—Education Code section 44944(e)(2). It also is an interesting illustration of how appellate courts vary in finding whether a lower court should have articulated the basis for its fee award for purposes of satisfying the abuse of discretion standard.
Education Code section 44944(e)(2) provides that if the Commission on Professional Competence (CPC)—a legislatively mandated body consisting of a member selected by the employee, a member selected by the governing board of education, and an administrative law judge of the Office of Administrative Hearings—determines that an employee should not be dismissed or suspended, the governing board should pay reasonable attorney's fees incurred by the employee.
In Los Angeles Unified School Dist. v. Commission on Professional Competence, Case No. B204963 (2d Dist., Div. 2 Mar. 10, 2009) (unpublished), teacher won a 21-day CPC hearing. L.A. Unified School District petitioned for mandamus, which the trial court denied when finding that LAUSD did not overcome the presumption that the CPC's decision was correct. Teacher moved for an award of $300,670, but the trial court only awarded her $180,000. Both parties appealed (with teacher cross-appealing from what she considered to be a stingy fee award). The judgment was affirmed across the board.
Teacher could not surmount the deferential abuse of discretion standard on appeal. (Graciano v. Robinson Ford Sales, Inc., 144 Cal.App.4th 140, 148 (2006).) Teacher mainly challenged that the trial court failed to identify which hours and rates it had reduced. This failed because a trial court is not required to set forth a statement of decision on a fee motion, much less most motions in general. (Maria P. v. Riles, 43 Cal.3d 1281, 1294 (1987).) Beyond that, teacher's fees motion presented no evidence that the rates charged by her counsel were the prevailing community rates for this kind of work. The bottom line: "We are not convinced that the trial court abused its discretion in reducing the fee award."
For cases showing the different views on what fee substantiation is necessary, see our category "Substantiation of Reasonableness of Fees."