California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, No.
37-2013-00037990- CU-OE-CTL William R. Nevitt, Jr., Judge.
Offices of Douglas A. Cleary and Douglas A. Cleary for
Plaintiff and Appellant.
Arizmendi Law Firm and Ruben F. Arizmendi for Defendant and
Ramos (Appellant) sued his former employers, Jose Robledo and
Dora Garcia ("the two employers"; nonparties in
this appeal), seeking to recover unpaid overtime, minimum
wages and other compensation, and to impose job-related
penalties. (Lab. Code,  §§ 1194, 226.7, 201, 203
[waiting time for payment], 226, subd. (f) [failure to turn
over wage records].) Appellant obtained some of the monetary
recovery he requested against the two employers. However,
Appellant had also sued Manuel Garcia
("Respondent"), claiming he was an employer, but
Appellant lost on all those claims as to Respondent, when the
court found that Respondent was a manager and co-employee of
the business, not an owner/employer.
trial, the court awarded Respondent attorney fees, as the
"prevailing party" under section 218.5, which is
commonly referred to as a two-way fee shifting provision.
(Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. (2012) 53
Cal.4th 1244, 1258 (Kirby).) Appellant argues on
appeal that the award of attorney fees to Respondent must be
reversed because the statutory requirements of sections 218.5
and 1194 do not allow an award of attorney fees under these
circumstances, in which Respondent was a prevailing employee
defendant. We agree that the attorney fees award is not
supported by the record and reverse with directions.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
brought several statutory causes of action against his two
employers, and also sought an award of attorney fees in his
complaint as amended.
trial, Appellant received an award against the two employers
for unpaid overtime and minimum wage compensation, in the
amount of $7, 747.50 plus interest (on his § 1194
claims). He also was awarded penalties against his two
employers for the waiting time before wages were paid ($3,
052.50, under § 203), and for the delay in records
provision ($750, under § 226 subd. (f)). Appellant lost
on his claims for meal and rest period compensation (§
226.7) against all defendants.
prevailed on all of Appellant's claims, as he was found
to be a manager, not an employer. Respondent then filed a
motion seeking an award of attorney fees against Appellant.
Respondent argued that as a prevailing party, he was entitled
to an award of attorney fees under section
218.5. Respondent alleged that Appellant
brought the action in bad faith, claiming "it was
reasonably clear from the beginning that [Respondent] was not
a proper defendant in the case and that he was not liable for
any violations alleged in [Appellant's] complaint."
court granted Respondent's motion for attorney fees,
determining he was a prevailing party under section 218.5.
The ruling specifically noted that it was not necessary for
the court to find that Appellant brought the action against
Respondent in bad faith, in order to award Respondent (an
employee) attorney fees pursuant to section 218.5. In
calculating the amount of the award, the court deducted the
time incurred by Respondent's counsel attributable to
defending the codefendant, employer Dora Garcia, and it thus
awarded only the amount of time recorded for Respondent's
defense. The total fees award against Appellant was $29, 295.
argues the trial court erred in awarding attorney fees to
Respondent under section 218.5 because the statutory
requirements were not met, or alternatively, both sections
1194 and 218.5 only allow an award of attorney fees to a
prevailing employee plaintiff, which Respondent was not. In
contrast, Respondent contends that as a "prevailing
aggrieved employee" who was a defendant, he is entitled
to attorney fees under section 218.5 on all claims, or
alternatively under section 1194 to the extent he defeated
Appellant's overtime claim.
PRINCIPLES FOR REVIEW
interpretation of a statute on a set of established facts is
a question of law subject to our independent review. When
presented with pure questions of law, our review standard is
de novo. (Ghirardo v. Antonioli (1994) 8 Cal.4th
independently review questions of statutory construction.
[Citation.] In doing so, 'it is well settled that we must
look first to the words of the statute, "because they
generally provide the most reliable indicator of legislative
intent." [Citation.] If the statutory language is clear
and unambiguous our inquiry ends. "If there is no
ambiguity in the language, we presume the Legislature meant
what it said and the plain meaning of the statute
governs." [Citations.] In reading statutes, we are
mindful that words are to be given their plain and
commonsense meaning. [Citation.] We have also recognized that
statutes governing conditions of employment are to be
construed broadly in favor of protecting employees.
[Citations.] Only when the statute's language is
ambiguous or susceptible of more than one reasonable
interpretation, may the court turn to extrinsic aids to
assist in interpretation.' " (Kirby, supra,
53 Cal.4th at p. 1250.) In addition, " '
"significance should be given to every word, phrase,
sentence and part of an act in pursuance of the legislative
purpose"[;] [citation] "a construction making some
words surplusage is to be avoided." ' "
(Id. at p. 1253.)
statute should not be read in isolation, "but construed
in context and ' "with reference to the whole system
of law of which it is a part so that all may be harmonized
and have effect." ' " (Compulink Management
Center, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co. (2008)
169 Cal.App.4th 289, 296.)
SCHEMES FOR PREVAILING PARTY COSTS AND FEES
Provisions of Section 218.5
218.5 is a two-way fee shifting statute, permitting an award
of attorney fees to either employees or employers who, as
relevant here, prevail on an "action brought for the
nonpayment of wages, " or "on account of nonpayment
of wages." (Kirby, supra, 53 Cal.4th at pp.
1256-1258; Earley v. Superior Court (2000) 79
Cal.App.4th 1420, 1429 (Earley).) If the
employee's action was instead brought to remedy an
employer's legal violation (i.e., failure to provide a
mandatory meal/rest break; § 226.7), there is no basis
for awarding fees under section 218.5 (or under § 1194).
(Kirby, supra, at pp. ...