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Kevin Q v. Lauren W

May 13, 2011

KEVIN Q., PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
LAUREN W., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, Thomas H. Schulte, Temporary Judge. (Pursuant to Cal. Const., art. VI, § 21.) Affirmed. Super. Ct. No. 07P000228

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ikola, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

The litigation between these parties began some four years ago, in March 2007, when Kevin Q. filed a petition to be declared the father of Lauren W.'s son under the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) (Fam. Code, § 7600 et seq.).*fn1 The trial court entered a paternity judgment in Kevin's favor, which we reversed. (Kevin Q. v. Lauren W. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1119.)

In this appeal, Lauren challenges the court's denial of her motion for a court order requiring Kevin to pay Lauren's outstanding attorney fees.*fn2 Lauren contends the court's denial of her fee request was erroneous under sections 7605 and 7640, the attorney fee statutes that expressly apply to UPA cases. She also argues the court erred by relying, at least in part, on section 2032, an attorney fee statute applicable to marital dissolution cases. We affirm the court's order.

FACTS

In December 2009, Lauren moved the court to order Kevin to pay her outstanding attorney fees incurred in the two consolidated cases between them. In a supporting declaration, Lauren's counsel, Debra Opri, declared: Prior to an April 9, 2008 court hearing on attorney fees (the 2008 hearing), Lauren had owed Opri & Associates $75,754 for fees and costs incurred for Lauren's defense in the action.*fn3 At the 2008 hearing, the court ordered Kevin to pay $20,000 of the then $75,754 balance, leaving an unpaid balance at that time of $55,754 (stage one fees). Subsequent to the 2008 hearing, Lauren incurred $178,581 in fees and costs and paid Opri's firm $6,589, leaving an unpaid balance of $171,992 (stage two fees). Lauren sought a court order for Kevin to pay a total of $227,746 in attorney fees, comprised of $171,992 and $55,754. According to Opri, Kevin had forced Lauren to fight for her child and defend herself in Kevin's unmeritorious paternity battle, with Kevin's knowledge that Lauren "would be outspent and without legal representation -- had she not had [Opri's] office representing her for these many years." Opri's normal hourly billing rate was $575 and her law clerk's was $225.

In Lauren's own declaration, she declared Opri had been working "basically for free" on her behalf. Lauren had paid Opri & Associates a total of $28,280, which included a payment of $15,600 made by Lauren's father. Lauren owed her father "tens of thousands of dollars." Her father had extended Lauren loans to pay her living expenses, but Lauren was now "severely limited" in her ability to borrow any more significant funds from her father due to his own financial limitations.

Lauren filed an income and expense declaration, showing she had last filed an income tax return in 2005, had not been employed since August 2006, and had no income. She also filed copies of Opri's itemized billing statements.

Kevin responded: (1) Lauren's request for fees on appeal was untimely; (2) the April 2008 court order that Kevin pay $20,000 of Lauren's stage one fees had rendered res judicata the issue of those fees;*fn4 and (3) Lauren's request for $125,700 for stage two fees (not including fees on appeal) was unreasonable because, inter alia, the parties' fees were disproportionate, with Lauren incurring $311,242 in fees for the entire case, compared to Kevin's $141,384, and Lauren incurring $125,735 in stage two fees compared to Kevin's $79,818. Kevin noted that Lauren's attorney had billed Lauren a total of $4,200 for driving time from Beverly Hills for court appearances in Orange County.

In Kevin's declaration, he declared that his trial and appellate attorneys had billed him a total of approximately $140,000, and that one attorney, as a professional courtesy, had charged him a reduced fee of $400 an hour (discounted from the lawyer's usual rate of $450 an hour).

On Kevin's income and expense declaration, he listed his stocks, bonds, and other readily saleable assets as "UNDETERMINED," and checked boxes for real and personal property but specified no fair market value for them. His expenses included monthly installment payments of $150 on a $50,000 loan made to him by certain relatives for litigation costs.

Lauren filed an amended income and expense declaration, declaring, inter alia, she had no income and that her father had loaned her the money to pay her living expenses.

The parties submitted the matter on the pleadings. The court denied Lauren's motion for attorney fees, after identifying the issue to be decided as: whether "attorney's fees should be paid to [Lauren], based on need and ability to pay, as set forth in . . . sections 2030, 2032, 7605, and 7640."

The court made the following findings based on the parties' income and expense declarations. Kevin's average monthly income was $12,803. Lauren had no income from employment and had not worked since August 2006, although she has a master's degree in psychology and is a certified chemical dependency counselor. Lauren received $8,700 per month from "others." These payments to Lauren were not loans; rather, they were "funds on which [she] relies in order to maintain her lifestyle" and therefore constituted support to her. Kevin's average monthly living expenses were $13,320, while Lauren's were $9,197. Kevin had a monthly deficit of $517, compared to Lauren's ...


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