Fees Justified Under Government Code Section 800 and Revenue and Taxation Code Section 1611.6; Costs Of $19,788.92 Justified Under CCP § 1032.
Here are two companion cases from the Fifth District, Canandaigua Wine Co., Inc. v. County of Madera, Case Nos. F059256 and F059621 (Apr. 20, 2011) (unpublished), discussing fee-shifting statutes we do not frequently see.
The fee shifting provisions are two in number. Government Code section 800 provides that a complainant prevailing in an appeal of an administrative proceeding award may be able to collect from the public entity reasonable attorney’s fees if the there was arbitrary or capricious action or conduct by the public entity. In turn, Revenue and Taxation Code section 1611.6 provides that a county board’s action is deemed to be arbitrary and capricious within the meaning of section 800 if the county board either fails to make findings of if the findings made are found to be so deficient by a reviewing court that a remand to the county board is ordered.
Plaintiff fell within the ambit of these statutes because it successfully obtained the superior court’s directive to have the Madera County Assessment Appeals Board make specific findings on the winery’s purchase price after recalculating the value of the property (not basing it on the preliminary change of ownership report). Because section 800 does not have a technical definition of “prevailing party,” practicalities guide the determination under this statute--especially whether the party realized its litigation objectives. (Zuehlsdorf v. Simi Valley Unified School Dist., 148 Cal.App.4th 249, 257 (2007); Donner Management Co v. Schaffer, 142 Cal.App.4th 1296, 1310 (2006).) Although losing its specific bid to direct the Board to enter a specific value on the tax roll, plaintiff did prevail on a significant recalculation issue. These circumstances justified sustaining the trial court’s award of $186,342.54 to plaintiff in appeal F059256.
With respect to costs (appeal in F059621), the lower court had discretion to determine which party prevailed when a party recovers other than monetary relief. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1032(a)(4).) Here, plaintiff did achieve its main litigation objective to vacate the base year determination based on the preliminary change of ownership report, giving the lower court discretion to award costs of $19,788.92 as a matter of discretion (with the record showing the court did not award them as a matter of right).