In determining whether the fees charged were customary, the Court looked to the fees charged by opposing counsel.
The Court allowed a somewhat higher fee schedule because the attorney took the case on a contingent fee basis.
The Court had found plaintiff's actual damages to be $ 1,318 and trebled them, to award $ 3,954.
In tying the fee award to the damage award the Court held that
where the recovery of private damages is the purpose of the litigation, a district court, in fixing fees, is obligated to give primary consideration to the amount of damages awarded as compared to the amount sought.
Id. at 945, citing City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 585, 91 L. Ed. 2d 466, 106 S. Ct. 2686 (1986).
The Court also stated that an upward adjustment should be given to a particularly resourceful attorney who secures a substantial benefit for his client with a minimum of time invested and vice versa.
The Court in Bayless also provided an exhibit, (Exhibit A), listing odometer cases, with their damage awards an fee awards. In the majority of these case, the fee award exceeded the damage award. In four of the twelve, the fee award was four times the damage award, or more. In four other cases, the fee award was less than the damage award.
There are two significant differences between Bayless and Evans. In Bayless, the plaintiff barely won, and her attorneys were inefficient. In Evans, the plaintiff won resoundingly, and her attorneys were efficient.
According to the criteria in Bayless, EVANS should receive an upward adjustment of her attorney's fees because she 1) succeeded decisively in all her claims and 2) employed her legal team efficiently.
FEE REQUEST JUSTIFIED UNDER CAL CIV. CODE § 1717
Cal. Civ. Code § 1717
This code section provides that
In any action on a contract, where the contract specifically provides that attorney's fees and costs, which are incurred to enforce that contract, shall be awarded either to one of the parties or to the prevailing party, then the party who is determined to be the party prevailing on the contract, whether he or she is the party specified in the contract or not, shall be entitled to reasonable attorney's fees . . .
Where a contract provides for attorney's fees, as set forth above, that provision shall be construed as applying to the entire contract . . .
Reasonable attorney's fees shall be fixed by the court and shall be an element of the costs of the suit.
15 U.S.C.A. § 1989(a)(2) (West 1990)
Plaintiff sued for breach of the contract for purchase of the Alfa Romeo. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff on the contract claims and Magistrate Langford entered judgment for plaintiff on the breach of contract claim in the amount of three thousand dollars. Plaintiff EVANS is a "prevailing party" within the meaning of Section 1717. Thus, an award of attorney's fees is available to plaintiff under Section 1717.
One purpose of section 1717 is to establish mutuality of remedy when a contractual provision makes recovery of attorney's fees available for only one party." Reynolds Metals Co. v. Alperson, 25 Cal. 3d 124, 128, 158 Cal. Rptr. 1, 3, 599 P.2d 83 (1979). A party requesting attorney's fees under section 1717 must establish that the opposing party would have been entitled to receive fees if that party had prevailed. See Id. at 128-9, 158 Cal. Rptr. at 3-4.
The contract at issue in this case contains a provision stating that if the purchaser of the vehicle breached the contract she would be liable. for attorney's fees. See paragraph E Purchase Order Agreement; Serota Decl., Exh. E. That provision, which expressly applied to the seller of the Alfa, is made a mutual remedy under section 1717. Moreover, "joinder of causes of action does not dilute the right of attorney's fees." Bruckman, 190 Cal. App. 3d at 1060, 235 Cal. Rptr. at 817.
In determining the amount of the award, the court may consider all the factors involved in the case, particularly the difficulty of the case and the degree of skill exercised. See Id. at 1063, 235 Cal. Rptr. at 819. As shown above, Plaintiff's successful opposition to Defendants' summary judgment motion resolved a novel issue of law. A substantial amount of time spent at pretrial and at the trial itself, went toward proving that Defendants' "Purchase Agreement" in fact evidenced a contract. Furthermore, it cannot be disputed that Plaintiff's attorney was skillful in all aspects of his presentation of Plaintiff's case, and that the jury found Defendants liable on the contract and for bad faith denial of the contract. All the factors discussed above support the award under section 1717.
EVANS' attorneys should receive their requested fees.
They staffed the case economically, and billed for reasonable amounts of time for each segment of the case. They showed extraordinary skill in a case with novel legal issues and unusual defense tactics. They achieved an outstanding result. Their fees are concomitant with the results obtained and with the awards in similar cases.
For all the above reasons, an award of fees is justified and is hereby GRANTED, in its entirety.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.