CCP § 1021.5 Fees Denied Because Benefit Was Personal in Nature.
Whistler and friends. Library of Congress.
Plaintiff whistleblower, a Los Angeles County sheriff, must have mixed emotions in Hager v. County of Los Angeles, Case Nos. B238277/239897 (2d Dist., Div. 3 Apr. 11, 2014) (unpublished).
He won a substantial jury verdict based on a pretextual termination for whistleblowing activities, winning over $4.5 million in damages which was cut down a little over $2 million on appeal based on insufficiency of evidence to support the economic damages award. The lower court also denied awarding plaintiff any attorney’s fees under California’s private attorney general statute (CCP § 1021.5) based on a lack of a significant benefit to the public.
This fee denial was affirmed on appeal. The problem here was that Hager was vindicating his own personal interests, not broader public interests or more widespread rights under the Peace Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBRA). “An action that rectifies illegal private or public conduct, including a suit brought under [Labor Code] section 1102.5(b) standing alone, does not establish that the action conferred a significant benefit on the public.” (Slip Opn., pp. 36-37, citing Satrap v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., 42 Cal.App.4th 72, 81-82 (1996).)