$152,529.95 Fee Request Slashed Down To $30,752.86 Through Actual Fee Order.
On May 20, 2016 and June 20, 2016, we posted on a case which was later accepted for rehearing by the same appellate panel. The opinion upon rehearing is now out in 569 East County Blvd. LLC v. Backcountry Against The Drop, Inc., Case No. D068538 (4th Dist., Div. 1 Dec. 5, 2016) (published; rehearing opinion).
The result did not change upon rehearing.
Basically, a SLAPP winner decided to request $152,529.95 in mandatory fees, subject only to the fees being “reasonable”—which was the rub in this matter. This was based on a $750 hourly rate for a senior attorney not experienced on SLAPP matters and on a $350 hourly rate for a fifth year associate. The lower court found that $275 per hour was more like it for a San Diego-venued case, especially where a seasoned attorney for another party in the case had charged this very same rate. The trial judge also determined the work was excessive, awarding only $30,752.86 in fees and prompting an appeal by the losing party.
The appellate court affirmed. Because this was governed under a deferential abuse of discretion review standard, the lower court had to resolve conflicting testimony about hourly rates and had discretion to pick the appropriate one, not having to accept hourly rates listed in the Laffey Matrix. (Syers Properties III, Inc. v. Rankin, 226 Cal.App.4th 691, 702 (2014).) The reviewing court also endorsed these common sense principles in the fee petition area: (1) lower rates should be utilized by seasoned attorneys doing tasks normally delegated to younger attorneys; and (2) blended hourly rates are acceptable in the right context. The trial judge did not err in concluding that the fee request was inflated, reducing for that factor also.