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Tri-State, Inc v. Long Beach Community College District

March 12, 2012

TRI-STATE, INC., PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
LONG BEACH COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. NC053609) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Ross M. Klein, Judge. Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Tri-State, Inc. (Tri-State), appeals a judgment dismissing its complaint against Long Beach Community College District (the District). The judgment awards the District $10,974 in attorney fees as costs pursuant to Civil Code section 3186. Tri-State contends Civil Code section 3186 does not authorize an attorney fee award in favor of a public entity against a stop notice claimant. We agree and therefore will reverse the fee award and otherwise affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Tri-State, doing business as Journey Electrical Technologies, performed work as a subcontractor on a construction project owned by the District. Taisei Construction Corporation (Taisei) was the general contractor. Tri-State delivered a stop notice to the District in August 2009 stating that $1,134,998.06 of the total contract price of $6,504,714.45 remained unpaid and was due and owing.

Tri-State filed a complaint against Taisei, the District and others in March 2010 alleging counts against the District for (1) the reasonable value of labor and materials furnished and (2) enforcement of the stop notice. Tri-State also alleged several other counts against Taisei and payment bond sureties. The District answered the complaint with a general denial.

Taisei obtained a release bond in an amount equal to 125 percent of the claim. The District agreed to accept the release bond in exchange for its dismissal from the action. The parties so stipulated, and the trial court entered an order on the stipulation in November 2010.

The District then moved for an award of $10,974.50 in attorney fees, claiming an entitlement to fees under Civil Code section 3186 as the prevailing party in the action. Tri-State opposed the motion arguing that Civil Code section 3186 did not authorize a fee award. The trial court granted the District's motion, awarding it $10,974.50 in attorney fees pursuant to Civil Code section 3186. The court later entered a judgment of dismissal, including an award of $10,974.50 in attorney fees as costs. Tri-State filed a timely appeal.

CONTENTIONS

Tri-State contends there is no statutory authority for the attorney fee award.

DISCUSSION

1. Standard of Review

Whether a statute authorizes an attorney fee award is a question of statutory construction. "We independently review questions of statutory construction. [Citation.]" (Pineda v. ...


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