Both Determinations Affirmed on Appeal.
In Marinos v. City of Rocklin, Case Nos. C058958/C060844 (3d Dist. Nov. 4, 2009) (unpublished), defendants City and landlord prevailed on a summary judgment motion based on plaintiffs not complying with a notice provision in a settlement agreement with a fees clause. The trial court then awarded defendants $184,605 in attorney’s fees (a 30% reduction from the requested fees of $265,066.50) to defendants as prevailing parties under the fees clause.
Plaintiffs appealed, and lost.
They initially argued that the fee motion was untimely because it was filed after the costs memorandum deadline. Not so, said the appellate panel. Fee recovery is governed by CRC, rule 3.1702(b), which is tied to the time period for appealing the underlying merits judgment. Here, defendants timely filed within 30 days after denial of the new trial motion.
Plaintiffs next argued that the two law firms representing the defendants unreasonably duplicated efforts. The problem with this contention is that the fee award is resolved under an abuse of discretion standard deferential to the lower court’s ruling. (Maughan v. Google Technology, Inc., 143 Cal.App.4th 1242, 1249 (2006).) Although the notice issue was ultimately determinative, both sides vigorously litigated many issues and engaged in lots of discovery and law and motion practice. The fee claimants provided 112 pages of detailed invoices, such that more than adequate substantiation of work effort was presented before the lower court. Given that the trial judge did reduce the requested fees by 30%, plaintiffs did not do enough in simply posing unreasonableness rhetorical questions rather than “show” the appellate court that the award was patently unreasonable.
They then argued that the fee motion was deficient because the defendants did not file copies of their fee agreements in connection with the motions. This one lost “ . . . as plaintiffs fail to offer any authority on that point.” (BLOG OBSERVATION—This argument was likely not going to prevail given that, under the Business and Professions Code, fee agreements are confidential attorney-client communications.)
Because plaintiffs did not meet their burden in showing error, the fee award was sustained on appeal.