No Clear Winner Emerged In This One.
Where litigants in a case involving both a complaint and cross-complaint win only some claims (but with a broad rental agreement fees clause), the trial judge has discretion to determine whether any side “prevailed” based on a pragmatic inquiry. In Barrera v. Jensen, Case Nos. A136322/A137418 (1st Dist., Div. 5 Mar. 20, 2015) (unpublished), the trial judge denied fee requests, finding each side should bear their respective fees. Each side appealed, but the result did not change.
Here is why. Plaintiffs/tenants sued defendants based on burglaries at certain apartments owned or managed by various defendants, and defendants cross-complained for declaratory relief under the rental agreements and for damages. Plaintiffs won on one out of five counts for negligent property management, winning a combined $22,150 in damages, but were defensed on the remainder of the claims. Defendants, as cross-complainants, won $217.50 in damages against one plaintiff. On the declaratory relief claims of both sides, plaintiffs were denied relief, and defendants/cross-complainants were awarded declaratory relief relating to two parking spaces. Given this “muddled” result (partial or at best mixed success), the trial judge was justified to conclude no one prevailed—plaintiffs did not win on their “big ticket” items and defendants won nominal damages/only declaratory relief relating to two parking spaces. Affirmed.
BLOG UNDERVIEW—The trial judge concluded that the rental agreement fees clause did not apply. The appellate court concluded this was erroneous, because it had broad “arising out of” language that encompassed both contract and tort claims. However, no harm/no foul—the lower court correctly determined the prevailing party issue such that the legal interpretation error had no impact.