Timeliness, Nonsignatory, Prevailing Party, and Reasonableness Arguments All Rejected on Appeal.
Jones v. Ju, Case No. E053266 (4th Dist., Div. 2 Sept. 7, 2012) (unpublished) involved a real property successor owner who knew about a reciprocal easements agreement but forced one of the adjoining owners to get a declaratory relief judgment on its effect. The appellate court, like the trial court, thought the agreement was unambiguous, affirming the merits. The lower court also granted plaintiffs their full fee request, entering an award of $82,145.50 in attorney’s fees.
Defendant’s four-pronged challenge was not successful on appeal.
Timeliness. Defendant claimed the fees motion was served late because they received it after the deadline set forth in Cal.Rules of Court, rule 3.1702. This argument was not found persuasive because the fee motion was mailed in time, with service being defined as the postmarked date of mailing. The fact the motion was received some days later did not defeat the timeliness of filing and service.
Scope of Agreement--Nonsignatory Status of Defendant. Defendant successor argued her nonsignatory status prevented application of the fees clause language to her. No, the fees clause was broad, encompassing situations where a party takes action to protect its interest in property, much like a lender protecting its default rights under a trust deed with respect to trustor successors. (Santa Clara Sav. & Loan Assn. v. Pereira, 164 Cal.App.3d 1089, 1097-1098 (1985).) Because defendant became bound by the terms of the agreement, she was also bound by the fees clause contained in it.
Prevailing Party. Based on the fact plaintiffs did not prevail on some monetary claims, defendant argued they were not the prevailing parties. No, they were because their main objecttive was to establish the existence of the reciprocal easement, which they did succeed on via the declaratory relief claim.
Amount of Fees. Although plaintiffs only submitted their billings in reply papers, defendant basically waived contesting the amount by not asking for a continuance and not providing a transcript of the motion hearing to show that she objected to the reply submissions. Beyond that, her challenges were only general in nature, violating the rule that challenges must be specific as to the items being disputed. (Premier Medical Mgt. Sys., Inc. v. CIGA, 163 Cal.App.4th 550, 564 (2008).)