Unlimited Civil Default Rules Applied Such That $31,365 Fee Recovery Allowable Under Case Producing About $6,000 Compensatory Unpaid Wage/Penalty Award.
Beck v. Stratton, Case No. B270826 (2d Dist., Div. 4 Feb. 14, 2017) (unpublished) is a situation where the Labor Commissioner awarded an ex-employee about $6,000 in unpaid wages and penalties against his former employer. Employer unsuccessfully appealed the award to the superior court, giving rise to attorney's fees against employer under Labor Code section 98.2(a). Employer argued that employee filed a fees motion untimely under a 30-day deadline, because the case was a limited civil case rather than an unlimited civil case (with a 30-day rather than 60-day fee motion deadline applicable to limited civil cases). The trial court found that the fee motion was timely filed, awarding $31,365 to employee—prompting an appeal by employer.
Employer did not succeed.
In an interesting discussion about the nuances between limited and unlimited civil jurisdiction cases, the appellate court ultimately concluded that the case was unlimited given that employer never designated the case as limited or unlimited on the civil cover sheet or put anything in the case caption indicating this was a limited case. As a result, this meant the case was, by default, an unlimited case. Once this determination was determined, fee entitlement was pretty clear.
Employee's attorney sought $550 per hour in the L.A employment legal community, which was found to be reasonable based on the proof presented before the court. The fee award was not found to be reasonably disproportionate to the compensatory damages result, given that the judgment was only a factor of five when the amount at stake could have exceeded $60,000.