United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR FEES AND COSTS (Doc. No. 44)
MICHAEL J. SENG, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Song-Beverly Act). The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF Nos. 14, 17.)
On September 18, 2013 the parties field a notice of settlement. (ECF No. 35.) Having reached settlement on all other aspects of this case the parties filed the instant fees and costs motion on February 20, 2014. For the reasons below, Plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiffs Yolanda Gordillo and Gabriel Preciado ("Plaintiffs") purchased a 2008 Ford F250 truck on November 27, 2007 from Westside Ford in Firebaugh, California. The sale price of the vehicle was $60, 264.28. The parties contest the amount of repairs that occurred prior to initiation of this action, but Defendant Ford Motor Company admits that the truck was in for service for fifty-seven (57) days. On October 24, 2011, Plaintiffs filed the instant lawsuit seeking restitution pursuant to the Song-Beverly Act.
After extended attempts at dispute resolution, the parties reached settlement on all aspects of the case in January 2013. (Kavicky Decl., Ex. C at 68-81, ECF 44-2 ("Settlement Agreement").) Defendant agreed to pay Plaintiffs $45, 151.59, "exclusive of attorneys' fees, costs and expenses. (Id.) In exchange, Plaintiffs were to surrender the vehicle. (Settlement Agreement at 2.0(a).) As part of the settlement, the parties agreed that Plaintiffs were the prevailing parties for purposes of the Song-Beverly Act and that Defendant Ford Motor Company ("Defendant") would be responsible for Plaintiffs' reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. (Id.)
On February 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the instant motion for attorneys' fees and costs requesting $80, 632.01. (ECF No. 44-1.) Defendant filed an opposition to the motion on March 14, 2014. (ECF No. 46.) Defendant argues not that Plaintiff is not the prevailing party entitled to be reimbursed reasonable fees and costs, but that the amount Plaintiff requests is excessive and should be reduced to $33, 061.33. (Opp'n, ECF 46 at 1.) Plaintiffs filed a reply on March 21, 2014. On March 25, 2014, the Court took the case under submission without oral argument. (ECF No. 49.) The matter stands ready for adjudication.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
State law establishes the required showing for attorney's fees in an action in diversity. Winterrowd v. Am. Gen. Annuity Ins. Co. , 556 F.3d 815, 827 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Kern Oil & Refining Co. v. Tenneco Oil Co. , 792 F.2d 1380, 1388-89 (9th Cir. 1986). State law also determines the method of calculating the fees. Mangold v. California Pub. Utils. Comm'n , 67 F.3d 1470, 1478 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Collado v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., 550 Fed.Appx. 368, 369-370 (9th Cir. 2013) ("[B]ecause the court exercised diversity jurisdiction over this matter, state law governs both the right to recover attorney's fees and the computation of their amount."). In this case, California law governs.
Under California law, the trial court has discretion to determine what constitutes reasonable attorneys' fees. PLCM Grp. v. Drexler , 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1096, 95 Cal.Rptr.2d 198, 997 P.2d 511, 519 (2000) (internal citation omitted). "[T]he fee setting inquiry in California ordinarily begins with the lodestar, ' i.e., the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate." Ctr. For Biological Diversity v. Cnty. of San Bernardino , 188 Cal.App.4th 603, 616, 115 Cal.Rptr.3d 762, 772-73 (2010). "California courts have consistently held that a computation of time spent on a case and the reasonable value of that time is fundamental to a determination of an appropriate attorneys' fee award." Id . (internal citation omitted).
California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1790 et seq., provides that a prevailing buyer "shall be allowed by the court to recover as part of the judgment a sum equal to the aggregate amount of costs and expenses, including attorney's fees based on actual time expended, determined by the court to have been reasonably incurred by the buyer in connection with the commencement and prosecution of such action." Cal. Civ. Code § 1794(d) (emphasis added). The inquiry is "whether under all the circumstances of the case the amount of actual time expended and the monetary charge being made for the time expended are reasonable." Nightingale v. Hyundai Motor Am. , 31 Cal.App.4th 99, 104, 37 Cal.Rptr.2d 149 (1994); see also Doppes v. Bentley Motors, Inc. , 174 Cal.App.4th 967, 998, 94 Cal.Rptr.3d 802 (2009). "If the time expended or the monetary charge being made for the time expended are not reasonable under all the circumstances, then the court must take this into account and award attorney fees in a lesser amount." Nightingale , 31 Cal.App.4th at 104; see also Levy v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. , 4 Cal.App.4th 807, 815-16, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 770 (1992) (prevailing party not necessarily entitled to all claimed attorneys' fees).
Plaintiffs, as the prevailing buyers, bear the burden of demonstrating all of the following: "the [attorneys'] fees incurred were allowable, were reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation, and were reasonable in amount." Nightingale , 31 Cal.App.4th at 104 (quoting Levy , 4 Cal.App.4th at 816) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court retains discretion to reduce the fee award where fees were not reasonably incurred. See Ketchum v. Moses , 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132, 104 Cal.Rptr.2d 377, 17 P.3d 735 (2001) ("[P]adding' in the form of inefficient or duplicative efforts is not subject to compensation."); Gorman v. Tassajara Dev. Corp. , 178 Cal.App.4th 44, 101, 100 Cal.Rptr.3d 152 (2009) ("A reduced [attorneys' fees] award might be fully justified by a general observation that an attorney overlitigated a case or submitted a padded bill or that the opposing party has stated valid objections.").
As stated, the parties agree that Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys' fees, but dispute the amount. The main points of contention raised by the parties are whether some of the time billed, such as travel time or vague billing entries, were excessive; whether the hourly rates demanded are reasonable; whether Plaintiffs are entitled to a fee multiplier; and whether the cost reimbursement requested was reasonable.
A. Number of Hours Worked
Plaintiffs assert that counsel billed 163 hours litigating the matter to settlement. (ECF No. 44-1, "P&A's" at 9.) Specifically, attorney Brian Bickel billed 8 hours; attorney Ericka Kavicky billed 100.3 hours; attorney Brian Cline billed 10.1 hours; attorney Larry Chae billed 12 hours; and paralegals Dominic Kingdamo, Karla Turegano, and Galyn Homes collectively billed 32.1 hours. (Kavicky Decl., Ex. A.) Defendants specifically object to certain instances of vague and block billing; ...