First District, Division 5 Interprets Civil Code Section 798.85 Fee-Shifting Provision.
Civil Code section 798.85 is a special fee-shifting provision arising under the Mobilehome Residency Law (MRL, Civil Code section 798 et seq). It provides: “In any action arising out of the provisions of this chapter the prevailing party shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. A part shall be deemed a prevailing party for the purposes of this section if the judgment is rendered in his or her favor . . . .” The next decision explores whether a prevailing party must be a “homeowner” for purposes of fee recovery under section 798.85. The First District, Division 5 answered “no” on the issue.
In De Los Santos v. KOMAR, LLC, Case No. A121043 (1st Dist., Div. 5 May 14, 2009) (unpublished), plaintiffs won an $8,000 interference award against mobile home park, with the trial court indicating that park also violated Civil Code section 798.4(a) in unreasonably failing to approve plaintiffs’ new buyer for their mobile home. Then, plaintiffs were awarded $18,630 in attorney’s fees pursuant to section 798.85. Defendant appealed.
Although using de novo review (because the issue was one of statutory interpretation), see MHC Financing Limited Partnership Two v. City of Santee, 125 Cal.App.4th 1372, 1397 (2005), the appellate court—in a 3-0 decision authored by Presiding Justice Jones—affirmed. Defendant principally claimed that plaintiffs could not recover because they were not “homeowners” within the meaning of the MRL. No way, said the Court of Appeal, because nothing in the statute or decisional law requires this added gloss. Even though the lower court refused to award statutory damages under section 798.86, this also made no difference—“[w]hether plaintiffs are entitled to punitive damages or to a statutory penalty for willful violation of the MRL pursuant to section 798.86 is not relevant to the determination of whether plaintiffs are prevailing parties within the meaning of section 798.85.” (Slip Opn., at pp. 9-10.)
BLOG OBSERVATION—Beyond this, plaintiffs did appear to fit the “homeowner” definition under section 798.9, because they were tenants in the mobile home park (and likely were staying there under a rental agreement).