City Won Less Than 4% Of Pled Damages Against Guarantor And Only 22% Of Past Due Amounts Claimed At Trial, Garnering $100,152 In Fees Under Guaranty Fees Clause.
City of Dinuba v. Thusu, Case No. F073781 (5th Dist. Feb. 20, 2018) (unpublished) demonstrates how deferential the “prevailing party” status determination can be under Civil Code section 1717 even if a litigant only obtained much smaller percentages than what were claimed in a complaint or even at trial.
In this one, City of Dinuba won a $47,900 judgment against a guarantor of a lease agreement. City, in its Complaint, had sought $1,250,883.28 for both past rent/prospective rent, but then scaled back at trial and only sought $212,261 in past rent damages. The scaling back was a smart move in hindsight. The trial judge awarded $100,152 in contractual attorney’s fees after City won, triggering an appeal by guarantor.
The Fifth District affirmed this fee award.
The problem was the deferential standard of review for “prevailing party” status under section 1717, one which guarantor could not overcome on appeal. Despite the fact that the ultimate compensatory award was 4% of pled damages and only 22% of damages claimed at trial, the appellate court was loath to penalize a litigant overstating damages given the attorney’s dilemma to not “go for the moon” for his/her client, citing de la Cuesta v. Benham, 193 Cal.App.4th 1287, 1295, 1296 n. 5 (2011).
BLOG OBSERVATION—This unpublished opinion was authored by Justice Meehan on behalf of a 3-0 panel. Co-contributor Mike, who attended Bullard High School in Fresno, CA, believes that Ms. Meehan was a “star” debater on the Bullard High School Debate Team before he attended this Fresno high school. If he recalls, Fresno—at the time—had very excellent debate and speech teams throughout the city at various high schools.