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Syers Properties III, Inc. v. Rankin

California Court of Appeals, First District, Second Division

May 5, 2014

SYERS PROPERTIES III, INC., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ANN RANKIN et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Alameda County Super. Ct. No. RG10518323.

Page 692

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

Law Office of Joseph Baxter, Joseph Baxter, Sara Baxter; Cannata, Ching & O'Toole, Therese Y. Cannata and Juna Kim for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, John H. Feeney and Adam M. Koss for Defendants and Respondents.

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OPINION

KLINE, P.J.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Syers Properties III, Inc. challenges the trial court’s award of attorney fees in its unsuccessful legal malpractice action against defendant attorneys Ann Rankin and Terry Wilkens and the Law Offices of Ann Rankin. In a separate opinion, we have affirmed the judgment in that action. (Syers Properties III, Inc. v. Rankin, (May 5, 2014, A136018) [nonpub. opn.].) The trial court awarded defendants attorney fees totaling $843, 245.27, pursuant to Civil Code section 1717 and Code of Civil Procedure section 1033.5, subdivision (a)(10)(A), as prevailing parties. Plaintiff contends the trial court abused its discretion in two respects in awarding the fees: First, plaintiff maintains the court’s determination of reasonable hours relied upon inadequate documentation that failed to show the reasonableness of the hours and the specific tasks performed by defense counsel. Second, plaintiff asserts the court abused its discretion in calculating the reasonable rate, as it did not inquire into the actual hourly rate charged or whether that actual rate was reasonable under the lodestar formula. We shall affirm the award.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff sued defendants for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty in defendants’ representation of plaintiff in a construction defect case over the course of seven years. Following numerous hearings and motions in limine to resolve legal issues in the action, a jury was empanelled, opening statements were given and plaintiff’s first witness was called. The court then granted defendants’ pending nonsuit motion. Following the judgment in their favor, defendants sought their attorney fees as the prevailing parties in the malpractice action, pursuant to the attorney-client fee agreement with plaintiff and Civil Code section 1717. Defendants sought a total of $843, 245.27 for the combined 2, 324.5 hours of attorney and paralegal time spent on the case from its inception, through discovery, numerous pretrial motions, trial, and post-judgment work.

In support of the requested fee, the law firm Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, which had represented defendants in the malpractice action, filed declarations from three attorneys who performed the majority of the work (1, 949 total hours): named shareholder John H. Feeney and associates Adam M. Koss, and Arthur J. Harris. Each of the declarations set forth the attorney’s qualifications and experience, described the stages or motions in the litigation in which he had been primarily engaged, and summarized his

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hours billed to defendants within several specific litigation categories, including the total hours spent in: “Fact investigation and general conferences and correspondence”; “Development of case analysis and strategy”; “Legal research”; “Expert and/or consultant work”; “Status reports to client and carrier”; “Draft pleadings and papers, and other case assessment and development”; “Settlement discussions and mediation”; “Written and document discovery”; “Party, percipient and expert depositions”; “Trial preparation and support, including witnesses and exhibit preparation and examinations”; “Trial motions and submissions”; “Court appearances, including trial”; and “Attorneys’ fee motion.” These totals were also submitted for each of the three primary attorneys in the form of time bar graphs for each category of work performed.

In addition, Feeney’s declaration set forth the hours billed by associate attorney David J. Gibson, as well as by each of four paralegals who assisted on the case. This declaration also described the qualifications and experience of Gibson and each of the ...


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