Plaintiffs Sought $1.7 Million (Inclusive Of Multiplier), But Went Home With Much Less.
Sancandi v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. B268839 (2d Dist., Div. 7 July 31, 2018) (unpublished) is a case which illustrates the principles that limited success in a non-certified class action, combined with an inflated request by the marginally-winning two plaintiffs, will result in a reduced fee award to plaintiffs’ counsel.
In this one, three groups of plaintiffs appealed in a non-certified class action challenging a determination that driving with a foreign driver’s license should be recognized by California as a valid driver’s license. They had very limited success in federal and state court litigation, although somewhat vindicating a City of Los Angeles impound policy and obtaining an $8,000 recovery total for two plaintiffs, even though their class certification action was denied. Plaintiffs sought recovery of almost $1.7 million in attorney’s fees, inclusive of a two times positive multiplier, as against the defense based on the $8,000 victory. Instead, the trial judge awarded $100,000 in plaintiffs’ favor.
Both sides appealed, but the fee award retained intact—plaintiffs wanted more; the defense wanted no fees ordered. Plaintiffs were entitled to private attorney general fees under the “catalyst theory,” because they did get Los Angeles to adopt a special order on foreign licenses and any settlement efforts would have been futile given Los Angeles’ position that a foreign license was irrelevant to the legal issues being adjudicated. Plaintiffs had limited success—no class certification; very limited success on the merits (at best, mixed). Given that the plaintiffs only got $4,000 each, no problem that attorney’s fees were limited to $100,000.