Limited Success, Excessive Hourly Rates, and Excessive Work Led To Reductions, Although Court Disagrees With One Aspect Of Gorman Decision.
In Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment v. County of San Bernardino, Case No. E059524 (4th Dist., Div. 2 Mar. 18, 2015) (unpublished), a CEQA plaintiff, a non-profit opposing the development of an Islamic community center and mosque in a San Bernardino County unincorporated residential area, did obtain a mandate on one wastewater disposal issue, although losing five other issues. Plaintiff then moved for private attorney general fees of $231,098 (a 2 multiplier on the lodestar), but the trial court only awarded it fees of $19,176, prompting an appeal.
The fee award was affirmed. The trial court was within its rights to reduce the request for (a) excessive hourly Los Angeles rates given that plaintiff did not make a showing that CEQA specialists were not available in the San Bernardino/Riverside area; (b) limited degree of success on one out of six issues; (c) excessive time spent on a mandate petition reply brief and on the “fees on fees” motion (plaintiff requested close to $10,000, with the trial judge allowing only $1,500 for this work); and (d) partners engaging in clerical and lots of legal research work, inappropriately charged to the opposition. However, the appellate panel did disagree with a portion of the Fifth District’s analysis in Gorman v. Tassajara Development Corp., 178 Cal.App.4th 44, 99-101 (2009), which found too whimsical an addition of 37 cents to a fee award where no other precision was shown in the calculation—with the 4/2 DCA finding that this precision cut the other way. A multiplier was properly denied because the matter was not complex and plaintiffs did not show the time expended by attorneys was so large as to preclude other employment.
Nonetheless, in a footnote, the affirming appellate panel did indicate that it would have been nice if the lower court had provided more detail and calculations in support of its order, namely, state the number of hours being allowed, state the hourly rates being allowed, and state the reasons for applying or not applying a multiplier.