Car Manufacturer Defendant Prevailed For Fees, But Might Be Liable For Some Routine Costs.
Actually, we can say that counsel for Mercedes-Benz in this case made some good moves as far as mitigating fee/costs exposure. M-B was embroiled in a gripe from a car owner about excessive multiple repairs. Car owner sued, but defense counsel essentially admitted liability in its answer and also sent a CCP § 998 offer stipulating to a certain sum and offering to repurchase the car in “undamaged condition, save normal wear and tear.” (Car owner did not accept the § 998 offer.) Pursuant to certain trial stipulations, the lower court entered a restitution order in favor of car owner and against M-B to the tune of $68,948.07. Then, car owner sought certain routine costs and attorney’s fees, with the fee request being $74,530 under a fee-shifting provision of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code, § 1794(d).) The lower court denied fee recovery and denied costs to car owner in part and awarded M-B some routine costs. Car owner appealed.
Car owner did get some minor relief in MacQuiddy v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, Case No. B251752 (2d Dist., Div. 8 Jan. 2, 2015) (unpublished).
Although the Song-Beverly Act has no definition of “prevailing party,” the courts look to see who achieved his/her litigation objectives. Here, car owner did not obtain a civil penalty such that owner’s main litigation objective was not achieved. The fee denial was correct under the circumstances.
Section 998 fee shifting was obviously in play, but the defense offer was ambiguous in using the term “undamaged condition”—there was no objective basis to permit the 998 offeree to meaningfully evaluate what this language meant.
However, the routine costs issue is where the rubber met the road. M-B could not be considered the prevailing party in this one, but maybe plaintiff car owner could get some normal expenses (but not fees) because owner did prevail. This one got remanded, but on minor costs issues in one of our first 2015 decisions to review in this New Year.