Second District, Division 8 Reinforces that Contemporaneous Time Record Submission Is Not a Fee Recovery Requirement.
This next case illustrates two important principles under Civil Code section 1717: (1) you need some fee entitlement basis—either a statute or contractual fees clause; and (2) California state law is more lenient on fee substantiation, although it is highly suggested that detailed time records be supplied to the scrutinizing judge.
In Isaac v. Lozano, Case No. B202499 (2d Dist., Div. 8 May 11, 2009) (unpublished), plaintiff won a $369,940 verdict on various counts (which had to be reduced because the trial court allowed a “double recovery”) and even later won a $191,297.30 fees award (based on a contractual fees clause) against two defendants. (This was the full amount of fees requested by plaintiff.) Both defendants appealed the fee award, with one winning and the other losing.
One defendant won because she was not a signatory on the promissory note containing the fees clause. Nothing showed that she assumed any obligations to pay fees under the note. So, the fee award was reversed as to her—based on no fee entitlement basis.
Different matter as to the remaining defendant, who was a signatory to the note with the fees clause.
However, defendant was miffed primarily because plaintiff’s attorneys did not submit contemporaneous time records to support the fee award. No problem, said the Court of Appeal, because California law only requires the testimony of an attorney as to the number of hours worked even in the absence of detailed time records. (Martino v. Denevi, 182 Cal.App.3d 553, 559 (1986).) Defendant also complained about the $450 and $300 hourly rates of plaintiff’s attorneys, but the trial court’s award constituted a reasonableness decision that would not be reversed (why? because it was not an abuse of discretion).
BLOG UNDERVIEW—We do know that California law does not require contemporaneous time record substantiation. However, we do suggest that redacted time records should be submitted; Ross Perot said the “devil is in the details”—and few fee awards get reversed because there was too much detail provided to the reviewing jurists.