Section 1021.5 Elements Were Met In This Case.
In Kane v. Valley Slurry Seal Co., Case No. C079558 (3d Dist. May 8, 2018) (unpublished), plaintiffs in a wage/hour class action prevailed after a bench trial under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Specifically, plaintiffs prevailed on some claims and the defense prevailed on others, but a total of $227,922.43 was awarded on individual/class wage-hour claims and the court awarded injunctive relief requiring Valley to comply with California prevailing wage laws and meal break requirements. Also, the trial judge awarded plaintiffs $996,232.72 in attorney’s fees under California’s private attorney general statute, CCP § 1021.5 (keeping in mind the UCL has no fee entitlement provision, but section 1021.5 provides an independent basis for such an award if its requirements are met).
The defense appeal of the fee award did not result in any change.
Initially, the appellate court rejected the defense argument that fee entitlement was forfeited because plaintiffs initially proceeded on a fee entitlement basis different than section 1021.5.
Second, prevailing wage requirements serve the public interest such that the “enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest” element was satisfied.
Third, a significant benefit was conferred on a significant number of future Valley Slurry employees with the wage/hour rulings such that plaintiffs’ personal motivation did not distract from the benefit to a broader class of persons.
Fourth, the “necessity and financial burden of private enforcement” prong of section 1021.5 also was met by plaintiffs. Among other things, the Labor Commissioner would have only been able to obtain injunctive relief for willful violations of the prevailing wage law, unlike restitution available under the UCL to the private plaintiffs. A private UCL suit, also, provided a better procedural vehicle to enforce employees’ rights on a more global basis given that individualized “Berman” hearings under Labor Code section 98 et seq. are inferior to a single UCL action. The financial burden of private enforcement was self-evident, given that plaintiffs had approximated the settlement value in the six figures such that the estimated litigation costs did not exceed this much, if at all. Fee award affirmed.