CCP § 473(b) Standards Are Not Ones To Be Engrafted Into Rule 3.1702(d).
In Robinson v. U-Haul Co. of CA, Case Nos. A141396/A145828 (1st Dist., Div. 4 Oct. 18, 2016) (published), former U-Haul independent dealer won a non-compete, unfair competition law (UCL), and malicious prosecution dispute against U-Haul, which mainly featured a challenge to certain noncompetition clauses in contracts with independent dealers. Plaintiff sought fees under the malicious prosecution and UCL counts, with fee recovery under the UCL hinged on the applicability of California’s private attorney general statute for purposes of benefiting a large number of independent U-Haul dealers under the noncompete ruling. The lower court granted fees under the private attorney general statute to the tune of $834,008.09, contrasted with the plaintiff’s request of $1,166,430.51. (The lower court denied fees on the malicious prosecution theory, because the claim sounded in tort rather than contract for purposes of recovery under a fees clause.)
The fee award was affirmed on appeal.
What happened in the fee proceeding was that the trial judge granted a motion to extend the date for filing an attorney’s fees motion, under CRC 3.1702(d), for “good cause” even though plaintiff admitted to blowing the 60-day deadline of CRC 3.1702(b)(1). The reviewing court found that the “good cause” standard is flexible and that the trial judge was the best one to adjudge the credibility of the party seeking to extend the date for filing a fee motion, which plaintiff’s attorney having a reasonable explanation for delay in filing the fee motion. It also importantly rejected engrafting CCP §473(b)’s “mistake/inadvertence/surprise/neglect” standards into the “good cause” construct of CRC 3.1702(d). Finally, the appellate court found no prejudice to U-Haul, which was on notice that fees were being sought well before the technical deadline was exceeded.