One Unilateral San Francisco Ordinance Fee-Shifting Provision Did Not Show That Interrelated Fees Spent On Compensable Claims Could Not Be Allowed.
Bienkowski v. Lam, Case No. A151579 (1st Dist., Div. 5 Aug. 9, 2018) (unpublished) was a situation where a tenant sued a defendant as the undisclosed partner of landlord, alleging that he was subject to the rental of uninhabitable, illegal dwelling units prohibitions. Plaintiff lost against landlord, who then sought fees under several fee-shifting statutes—namely, Civil Code section 1717 (contractual fees clause, made mutual no matter how worded), Civil Code section 1942.4 (prevailing party entitled to fees for untenable dwelling collection of rent situation), and San Francisco ordinance (one of which had bilateral fee provision for uninhabitable situations and one of which had an unilateral prevailing plaintiff provision for tenant harassment). Successful defendant was awarded $455,938 in attorney’s fees under these various provisions.
For the most part, the fee award was affirmed—except for a $2,000 “double dip” reduction.
Here is what the appellate court determined: (1) Defendant Lam did prevail under the partnership theory so that he was entitled to a fee recovery; (2) the San Francisco ordinance has a bilateral fee provision such that Lam prevailed as the successful “owner” under the fee provision; (3) the San Francisco’s unilateral fee language relating to tenant harassment did not override the general principle that intertwined work relating to compensable claims do not have be allocated out given no indication that the unilateral fee language was preemptive in nature; (4) no allocation had to be made because the non-compensable work claims were interrelated; and (5) the fee award had to be reduced by $2,000 because the original and supplemental motion papers demonstrated it had been counted twice for fee request purposes.