Plaintiff’s Fee Recovery of $291,155 Affirmed, Although 1.5 Requested Multiplier Denied.
Here is one that again shows how small damages can justify fee awards of an exponential nature, in this case over eight times the successful compensatory recovery.
Sciborski v. Pacific Bell Directory, Case No. D056440 (4th Dist., Div. 1 May 8, 2012) (partially published; fee discussion not published) was a situation where plaintiff recovered $36,000 in damages in a case subject to a mandatory fee-shifting statute, Labor Code section 218.5. Plaintiff requested $436,732.50, reflecting a lodestar of $291,155 with a 1.5 multiplier.
The law and motion hearing on the fee request did not start well, with the trial court indicating that the hours spent on the case appeared too high, counsel’s hourly rate was “a lot of money,” and fees charged by attorneys in the community were a general concern. However, plaintiff’s counsel stood his ground and explained the complexity of the case, the contingency risk, defendant’s unwillingness to settle (given a $30,000 offer prior to trial), and defense litigation tactics driving costs up. Although denying the multiplier, the trial court awarded the full $291,155 lodestar.
The defense appeal of the fee award and plaintiff’s appeal of the multiplier denial were not successful. Defendant could not overcome the abuse of discretion standard governing its appeal, with the appellate court taking special note of the failure to settle and the defense litigation exacerbating tactics. Plaintiff lost because the appellate court was unwilling to weigh the lower court’s assessment of the factors, especially given that the lower court did seem to temper down from some of the remarks during the course of the fee proceeding.
However, the appellate court generally agrees with the notion that the degree of success is an important factor in evaluating an attorney’s fees request.