Remand to Determine What Portion of Attorney and Paralegal Time Was “Administrative” in Nature.
Collins v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. B228882 (2d Dist., Div. 3 Apr. 20, 2012) (certified for publication) is a class action case where two class representatives on behalf of a class obtained a judgment-based common fund recovery for emergency response costs for persons driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Although requesting a lodestar of $634,761 and an additional $150,000 delay enhancement, plaintiff was awarded attorney’s fees of $577,691 under California’s private attorney general statute (CCP § 1021.5). The lower court ordered that 40% of the fees should be paid from the class restitution fund and the remaining 60% should be paid by City of Los Angeles. However, the trial court did exclude certain fees requested for attorney and paralegal work on the ground they were only “administrative” and non-recoverable.
The private attorney general fee apportionment was sustained on appeal. The necessity, financial burden requirements, and “interests of justice” elements of CCP § 1021.5 justified this allocation, especially where fees should be paid by the opposing party rather than from a common fund recovery in the right circumstances. (Slip Opn., p. 20.) The appellate court also has an interesting discussion of whether the court in a § 1021.5 case must peg the possible class action benefits to the actual recovery versus the estimated value of the case (or, realistic expected recovery), opting to go with the latter approach--departing company from Robinson v. City of Chowchilla, 202 Cal.App.4th 382, 402 and fn. 6 (2011) in the process. Finally, the “full monetary value of the judgment” had to be considered--which might include actual monetary recovery and other direct financial benefits provided to the plaintiff.
That brought the appellate court to a reduction for “administrative” tasks by attorneys and paralegals. Here, the appellate court believed that the trial court did abuse its discretion by denying compensation for attorney and paralegal time of a normally compensable nature. Simply because an expert labeled the tasks as “administrative” was too overbroad to deny compensation altogether. Remand on this point.