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Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire District

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

July 23, 2013

LORING WINN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CHINO VALLEY INDEPENDENT FIRE DISTRICT, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from the Superior Court of San Bernardino County, No. CIVRS801732 Janet M. Frangie, Judge.

Loring Winn Williams, in pro. per., for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, Peter J. Brown and Judith S. Islas for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

RICHLI, J.

Plaintiff and Appellant Loring Winn Williams lost a FEHA (California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.) case in which he sued defendant and respondent Chino Valley Independent Fire District (the District) for employment discrimination (case No. E052123). The trial court then granted Williams’s motions to tax costs in part and entered an order granting the District costs of $5, 368.88. Williams appeals from the order, contending that no costs should have been allowed. The order is appealable under Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1, subdivision (a)(2).

I

ISSUE

The issue presented is whether the District, as the prevailing party, must show that Williams’s claim was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless in order to recover costs in an action for employment discrimination under FEHA.[1]

II

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 25, 2008, Williams filed a complaint for damages and injunctive relief for employment discrimination and for a petition for writ of mandate. His third amended complaint was filed on November 17, 2009.

On October 13, 2010, the court partially granted Williams’s motion for summary adjudication and denied the District’s motion for summary judgment.

The District then filed a petition for a peremptory writ of mandate in this court. We granted the petition, and Williams’s petition for review by our Supreme Court was denied on June 8, 2011.

The trial court followed the writ of mandate by vacating its earlier orders and granting the District’s motion for summary judgment. The ensuing judgment awarded the District costs to be determined.

The District then filed its memorandum of costs on appeal, and Williams filed a motion to tax costs. The District also filed a memorandum of costs summary, and Williams filed a second motion to tax costs. Williams argued that no costs should be awarded because his disability discrimination claim was not frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.

On November 9, 2011, the motions were heard. The first motion was granted in part. The second motion was granted in part and denied in part. After a review of applicable authorities, the trial court rejected Williams’s contention that no costs were allowable. Costs totaling $5, 368.88 were awarded to the District.

III

WILLIAMS’S ARGUMENT

On appeal, Williams renews his argument that no costs should have been awarded because his discrimination claim was not frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.

Williams’s argument is based on Christiansburg Garment Co. v. E.E.O.C. (1978) 434 U.S. 412 (Christiansburg), as applied in Cummings v. Benco Building Services (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1383 (Cummings). In Christiansburg, our California Supreme Court interpreted section 706(k) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The section currently provides: “In any action or proceeding under this title [42 USCS §§ 2000e et seq.] the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the Commission or the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee [including expert fees] as part of the costs, and the Commission and the United States shall be liable for costs the same as a private person.” (Italics added.)

Specifically, the Supreme Court focused on the question of when attorney fees should be awarded when the defendant is the prevailing party in a Title VII action. (Christiansburg, supra, 434 U.S. at p. 414.) The court found that different policy considerations and standards apply when attorney fees are requested by a prevailing plaintiff than when attorney fees are requested by a prevailing defendant. (Id. at pp. 417-421.)

The Supreme Court articulated the following standard: “In sum, a district court may in its discretion award attorney’s fees to a prevailing defendant in a Title VII case upon a finding that the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not ...


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