Case Tells Government Entities To Beware When They Aggressively Litigate And Lose In Pro-Civil Rights Fee Shifting Cases.
The next case is one that litigators representing governmental entities need to pay attention to. Often times, government will aggressively litigate until the end, only to tell the appellate court that fees to a successful party were excessive or multipliers unjustified despite the contingency risk absorbed by the winning party’s counsel showing great acumen to prevail in the matter. Williams v. L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Auth., Case No. B259327 (2d Dist., Div. 3 Apr. 5, 2016) (unpublished) shows that governmental entities faced with the right facts will not win a “Hail Mary” attempt on appeal.
In this one, plaintiff prevailed on a disability discrimination-related FEHA case, requesting a lodestar plus a 2.0 multiplier in a case where Metro aggressively contested all along the way. Plaintiff’s counsel requested $600 per hour for lead counsel (17 years of experience) and $325-425 for junior counsel (6 years of experience). The trial judge granted the lodestar, augmented by a 1.5 positive multiplier based on the skill shown by plaintiff’s counsel in the case plus the contingency risk absorbed by the same counsel. Once “fees on fees” were added, the total fee award to plaintiff was $1,163,977.50.
This award was affirmed on appeal. The lodestar component of the award was not challenged on appeal, just the multiplier. However, the appellate court found it was appropriate in light of the demonstrated skill and contingency risk factors. It found that the prior case of Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie, 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1175 (1998) was trumped by Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132-1133 (2001) [one of our Leading Cases], which does allow consideration of contingency risk in FEHA and other cases. Finally, the “scorched earth” plea by Metro, which itself left no stone unturned, did not resonate in light of plaintiff having no choice but to respond in kind.