Fee Request Claimed High Hourly Rates And Inflated Work Requests.
By now, readers will know that winning defendants in SLAPP motions are entitled to a fee recovery. (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16(c)(1).) Despite this entitlement, however, the fee request must be reasonable under the lodestar analysis, allowing a trial judge to deny entirely or significantly reduce an inflated request. That is what happened in Dean v. Friends of Pine Meadow, Case No. A151256 (1st Dist., Div. 4 Sept. 27, 2018) (unpublished).
The trial judge was presented with a large fee request of $244,418.57 by winning SLAPP defendants, inclusive of a positive 1.5 multiplier request. That included lead work by a Los Angeles lead attorney and a request for hourly rates in the $750-775 range for a case venued in Contra Costa County (East Bay area). Plaintiffs challenged the fee motion as being untimely filed and unreasonable in amount, with lots of submissions by both sides in support of their respective positions. The trial judge found that defendants failed to show that a more local attorney learned in SLAPP issues could not be found, that $400-500 was the reasonable lodestar hourly rate for East Bay attorneys, that lead counsel was entitled to a $100 raise in his hourly rate (given that he carried work on a contingent basis for some time, which was the top $500 rate awarded by the lower court), and that some of the time charges were duplicative, unnecessary, or unreasonable.
The appellate court sustained the result on both the defense appeal and plaintiffs’ cross-appeal.
The lower court, based on the record, carefully followed the lodestar analysis, demonstrating that use of a non-local counsel was not required, that the claimed hourly rates were too high for the East Bay venue, and that an inflated request was presented—which means discretion was properly used to deny the fee request by the defense.
With respect to plaintiffs’ cross-appeal, plaintiff did appeal timely from a later judgment which was the appealable order rather than an earlier minute order not even involving the defense SLAPP fee entitlement. However, with that being said, the trial court did not err by awarding defendants a reduced amount of fees.