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Ravet v. Stern

August 6, 2010

GARY K. RAVET, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARC O. STERN, AN INDIVIDUAL; JOEL WOHLFEIL, AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge

ORDER: GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES (Doc. No. 189)

Presentlybefore the Court is Defendant's renewed motion for attorneys' fees pursuant to Cal. Civ. Pro. Code § 425.16, commonly known as California's Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("anti-SLAPP") statute. (Doc. No. 189.) Also before the Court is Plaintiff Gary Ravet's opposition.*fn1 (Doc. No. 192.) For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion for attorneys' fees.

BACKGROUND

On January 4, 2007, Ravet filed a federal complaint against various defendants*fn2 alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), as well as extortion, conversion, trespass to chattels, spoliation of evidence, defamation, and abuse of process. (Doc. No. 1.) The complaint was based on a malicious prosecution action filed against Ravet in San Diego Superior Court, of which Stern and Wohlfeil were counsel for the plaintiffs in that action. (Id.) The defendants all filed motions to dismiss the complaint, which Judge Miller granted on July 17, 2007. (Doc. No. 56.)

Ravet filed an amended complaint on July 31, 2007 (Doc. No. 57), which all defendants moved to dismiss and strike. (Doc. Nos. 71, 73-76, 123.) On August 1, 2008, before Judge Miller had ruled on the motions to dismiss, Ravet requested leave to file a second amended complaint. (Doc. No. 143.) This request was granted, and Ravet filed a second amended complaint on September 8, 2008. (Doc. Nos. 143, 144.)

On October 6, 2008, defendants Stern and Wohlfeil renewed their motions to dismiss, strike and quash, including their anti-SLAPP motion. (Doc. No. 154.) Shortly thereafter, on October 31, 2008, Ravet filed a notice of dismissal without prejudice of the action against Stern and Wohlfeil. (Doc. No. 154.) Stern and Wohlfeil requested the Court retain jurisdiction over their anti-SLAPP motion, which the Court granted. (Doc. Nos. 158, 160.)

On August 31, 2009, the Court granted Stern and Wohlfeil's anti-SLAPP motion to strike Plaintiff's claims of extortion, defamation, and abuse of process and denied Stern and Wohlfeil's motion as to the conversion and trespass to chattels claims. (Doc. No. 182.) Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16(c), the Court found that the defendants were entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees associated with their prevailing claims. (Id. at 10.) However, the Court ordered defendants to produce documents evidencing the attorneys' fees and costs before awarding the specific fees. (Id.) On November 6, 2009, Wohlfeil filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs, which were allegedly incurred by Stern as Wohlfeil's attorney in the matter. (Doc. No. 183.) The Court denied without prejudice Defendant's motion for attorneys' fees on the grounds that Defendant did not meet "his burden of establishing the reasonableness of Stern's rate charged, nor the reasonableness of Stern's total number of hours and why they are sufficiently connected to the anti-SLAPP proceeding." (Doc. No. 183.) As such, on April 7, Wohlfeil filed the present renewed motion for attorneys' fees. (Doc. No. 189.)

LEGAL STANDARD

"In any action subject to [Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(b)], a prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney's fees and costs." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(c) (emphasis added). A district court has "broad discretion in determining the reasonable amount of attorney fees and costs to award a prevailing defendant." Kearney v. Foley and Lardner, 553 F. Supp. 2d 1178 (S.D. Cal. 2008) (quoting Metabolife Int'l, Inc. v. Wornick, 213 F. Supp. 2d 1220, 1222 (S.D. Cal. 2002)).

To determine a reasonable attorneys' fee award, the California Supreme Court has found that "the lodestar adjustment approach should be applied to fee awards under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16." Ketchum v. Moses, 17 P.3d 735, 744 (Cal. 2001). The Court begins by "multiplying the number of hours reasonably spent on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate." McCown v. City of Fontana, 565 F.3d 1097, 1102 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). The resulting figure is referred to as the "lodestar" amount. Id. (citing City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 568 (1986)).*fn3

To determine the reasonable hourly rate, the Court looks to the "rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Barjon v. Dalton, 132 F.3d 496, 502 (9th Cir. 1997)).In this case, the relevant community is the Southern District of California because it is "the forum in which the district court sits." Id. The burden is on the party requesting attorneys' fees to "produce satisfactory evidence." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984). Evidence that the Court should consider includes "[a]ffidavits of the [movant's] attorney and other attorneys regarding prevailing fees in the community, and rate determinations in other cases, particularly those setting a rate for the [movant's] attorney." United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990).

To determine the reasonable hours expended in a case, the Court should exclude hours "that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." McCown, 565 F.3d at 1102 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). The party requesting attorneys' fees "should provide documentary evidence to the court concerning the number of hours spent." Id. "[A]bsent circumstances rendering an award unjust, the fee should ordinarily include compensation for all hours reasonably spent, including those relating solely to [obtaining] the fee [award]." Kearney, 553 F. Supp. 2d at 1178 (quotation omitted).

DISCUSSION

In the instant case, Defendant Wohlfeil requests an award of attorneys' fees in the total amount of $43,185.00. (Memo. ISO Motion at 15.) These fees were allegedly incurred by Stern from the date he was retained by Wohlfeil on November 15, 2007 up until the present. (Stern Decl. ¶ 7.) If the Court grants Wohlfeil's request for attorneys' fees, Ravet requests the Court to:

1) eliminate fees that would have been expended regardless of whether or not the anti-SLAPP motion was filed; 2) reduce the remaining balance by 50% to account for the fact that Stern's work, aside from the motion to quash, was done for both himself and for Wohlfeil; and 3) reduce once again the remaining sum by 50% because the anti-SLAPP ...


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