California Case Again Highlights Differences In Substantiation Required In State Versus Federal Cases.
La Grange v. Ward, Case No. B280997 (2d Dist., Div. 7 May 9, 2018) (unpublished) is an abuse of discretion case regarding the reasonableness of a trial court’s fee award, but it also highlights the differences in fee substantiation required by California state versus federal courts.
Defendant won a SLAPP motion, which requires a mandatory grant of fees subject to discretion on whether they are reasonable (which would include proper fee substantiation, depending on what substantiation a trial judge believes is needed). The defense asked for $56,638 in fees, but was only awarded $23,760. Losing plaintiff apparently was shocked, appealing.
The fee award stuck upon appellate review.
The lodestar was reduced on certain tasks, which showed discretion was exercised by the lower court. Interestingly, the lower court did not allow fees for a “mock argument” on the fee motion, although the trial judge could allow for such fees, quoting Eisenberg et al., Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Appeals and Writs (The Rutter Group 2017) ¶ 10:80. The trial judge properly reduced the hourly rate from $495 to $400 based on eight years of experience in the L.A. market for this type of motion, with the fee claimant not even having to submit evidence of comparable hourly rates given the trial judge can gauge based on his/her experience. (This likely would be a failure of proof in a lot of federal cases.) Plaintiff’s challenge to the “inflated” nature of the fee request did not resonate given that the lower court does not have to deny such a request altogether such that the 57.3% reduction in requested fees showed discretion was exercised. With respect to fee substantiation, the trial judge’s experience prevailed even though no detailed billings were submitted and the ones that were had block billed or redacted entries. (Again, federal law requires much more detailed substantiation than mere summary of attorney efforts by attorneys on the case, with block billing and redacted submissions drawing criticism and substantial reductions.)