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League of United Latin American Citizens Inc. v. Eureste

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 28, 2014

BERNARDO EURESTE, et al., Defendants.



This trademark infringement/fraud action arises out of a dispute involving the membership of Plaintiff League of United Latin American Citizens Inc. ("LULAC"). Now pending before the Court are 1) Defendants Angel and Argentina Lueveno's motion for attorney's fees, and 2) LULAC's motion for leave to file an untimely amended complaint. After carefully considering the parties' submissions, the Court concludes that oral argument is unnecessary, see Civ. L.R. 7-1(b), and orders as follows.


LULAC's initial complaint made federal claims for trademark infringement and false designation of origin, as well as state law claims for common law trademark, unfair competition, fraud, conversion and abuse of process against the Luevenos, Defendant National League of Latin American Citizens ("NLLAC"), and Defendant Bernardo Eureste (collectively, "Defendants"). Defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the complaint; specifically, NLLAC and Eureste moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the Luevanos moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim and to strike pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation ("anti-SLAPP") statute. On September 11, 2014, the Court granted the motion to strike-but only as to the abuse of process claim-as well as the motions to dismiss, giving LULAC 20 days from the date of the Order to amend its complaint. The Court warned that "[f]ailure to file a timely amended complaint will mean the claims are dismissed with prejudice." (Dkt. No. 46 at 12.) Despite this warning, LULAC failed to timely file an amended complaint; rather, one week after its amended complaint was due, LULAC filed the pending motion for leave to file an amended complaint. In addition, the Luevanos filed a motion for attorney's fees they assert LULAC owes as a result of their successful motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute.


A. Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs

The Luevanos seek $31, 374.00 in attorney's fees and costs from LULAC. That amount includes 1) $12, 187 in fees incurred in bringing the motion to strike; 2) a multiplier of 2.0 on those fees; 3) $6, 749.50 for fees-on-fees; and 4) $141.08 in costs. LULAC failed to file an opposition to the motion. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motion for attorney's fees and costs; specifically, the Court GRANTS the request for attorney's fees, but reduces the requested amount by $1, 218.25; DENIES the request for a multiplier; GRANTS the request for fees-on-fees, but reduces the amount by $2, 625; and GRANTS the request for costs, but reduces the amount by $45.29. In sum, the Luevanos are granted $10, 968.75 in attorney's fees for the partially successful special motion to strike, $4, 124.50 in fees-on-fees, and $95.79 in costs.

1. Legal Standard

State law governs attorney's fees awards based on state fee-shifting laws, like California's anti-SLAPP statute. See Northon v. Rule, 637 F.3d 937, 938 (9th Cir. 2011). Under California's anti-SLAPP statute, "a prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney's fees and costs." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code ยง 425.16(c)(1); see also ComputerXpress, Inc. v. Jackson, 93 Cal.App.4th 993, 1020 (2001). "The dual purpose of this mandatory attorney fee award is to discourage meritless lawsuits and to provide financial relief to the victim of a SLAPP lawsuit by imposing the litigation costs on the party seeking to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances." City of Los Angeles v. Animal Def. League, 135 Cal.App.4th 606, 627 n.19 (2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The defendant may recover fees and costs only for the motion to strike, not the entire litigation." Christian Research Institute v. Alnor, 165 Cal.App.4th 1315, 1320 (2008). But, "an award of fees may include not only the fees incurred with respect to the underlying claim, but also the fees incurred in enforcing the right to mandatory fees" under the anti-SLAPP statute. Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1141 (2001).

"An award of attorney's fees and costs pursuant to section 425.16(c)(1) must be reasonable." March v. Twin Cities Police Authority, 2014 WL 3828172, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2014). "[A] court assessing attorney fees begins with a touchstone or lodestar figure, based on the careful compilation of the time spent and reasonable hourly compensation of each attorney... involved in the presentation of the case." Ketchum, 24 Cal.4th at 1131-32 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Morales v. City of San Rafael, 96 F.3d 359, 363 (9th Cir. 1996) ("The lodestar' is calculated by multiplying the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.").

"In determining a reasonable hourly rate, the district court should be guided by the rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210-11 (9th Cir. 1986), amended on other grounds by 808 F.2d 1373 (9th Cir. 1987). The relevant community for purposes of determining the prevailing market rate is generally the "forum in which the district court sits." Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008).

In determining a reasonable amount of time spent, the Court should only award fees based on "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation" and exclude "hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983). "There is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations." Id. at 436. "The court necessarily has discretion in making this equitable judgment." Id. at 437.

"As the moving party, the prevailing defendant seeking fees and costs bear[s] the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates. To that end, the court may require [a] defendant[] to produce records sufficient to provide a proper basis for determining how much time was spent on ...

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