California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division
THOMAS E. BECK, Plaintiff and Appellant,
ANTHONY STRATTON, Defendant and Respondent.
Filed Date 3/8/17
from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County
No. BS152046, Mark A. Borenstein, Judge. Affirmed.
E. Beck in pro. per.
Maxim Balter for Defendant and Respondent.
Labor Commissioner awarded respondent Anthony Stratton
approximately $6, 000 in unpaid wages and penalties against
his former employer, appellant Thomas Beck. Beck
unsuccessfully appealed the award to the superior court under
Labor Code section 98.2, subdivision (a). Stratton then moved
for attorney's fees under Labor Code section 98.2,
subdivision (c) 58 days later. Beck opposed the motion as
untimely, because Stratton filed it after the 30-day deadline
applicable to fee motions in limited civil cases. Stratton
maintained the motion was timely because it was filed within
the 60-day deadline applicable to fee motions in unlimited
civil cases. The superior court agreed with Stratton and
awarded him $31, 365 in attorney's fees.
appeal, Beck contends that the motion for attorney's fees
was untimely because the case was a limited civil case. He
further contends that, even if the motion was timely, the fee
award was unreasonably high and unsupported by competent
billing evidence. We disagree with both arguments and affirm
the judgment of the superior court.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
hired Stratton to work for him in September 2013. Stratton
quit the job two months later, in November 2013, while Beck
was out of town. Stratton left a “somewhat
confusing” note on his desk, in which he claimed he was
owed a total of $1, 957.95 in wages, overtime, and other
compensation. Of that, $1, 075 was for 43 hours of
“straight time” at Stratton's hourly wage of
promptly directed his payroll service, ADP, to pay Stratton
the $1, 075 in ordinary wages. For reasons “no one at
trial could explain, ” ADP paid Stratton only $771.45
instead of the requested $1, 075. Beck later paid Stratton
the other moneys he had requested, but did not pay the
$303.55 difference between the $1, 075 in ordinary wages
Stratton was owed and the $771.45 ADP remitted.
filed a claim for unpaid wages in the amount of $303.50 with
the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the state agency
empowered to enforce California's labor
laws. (Morillion v. Royal Packing
Co. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 575, 581.) After conducting an
administrative hearing, the Labor Commissioner awarded
Stratton the $303.50 he requested, plus an additional $5,
757.46 in liquidated damages, interest, and statutory
penalties, for a total award of $6, 060.96.
timely sought review of the Labor Commissioner's order by
filing an appeal in the Los Angeles County superior court.
(See Lab. Code, § 98.2, subd. (a).) He completed and
filed the “Notice of Appeal” form designed by the
Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for such cases,
to which he attached a copy of the $6, 060.96 award issued by
the Labor Commissioner. Beck did not file the civil case
cover sheet required for all civil cases by California Rules
of Court, rule 3.220. The civil case cover sheet is the form
on which a party indicates whether a civil case is limited or
unlimited; Beck accordingly made no such designation. The
clerk charged Beck a filing fee of $435. This filing fee,
which is fixed for all appeals of Labor Commissioner awards,
is equivalent to the fee charged for unlimited civil cases.
(See Lab. Code, § 98.2, subd. (a); Gov. Code, §
70611; see also Superior Court of California, County of Los
Angeles Civil Fee Schedule for 2014 at pp. 1, 7, available at
http://www.lacourt.org/forms/Fees.) The clerk assigned a case
number prefix, BS, that is used in unlimited special
proceeding civil cases, rather than a prefix, K, that is used
in limited civil cases.
after Beck initiated the superior court proceeding, the Labor
Commissioner served notice to Beck that the Labor
Commissioner would be representing Stratton in the matter.
(See Lab. Code, § 98.4.) The caption on that notice
stated that the case was “Limited Civil.” The
Commissioner later filed a case management statement form on
which it checked boxes indicating that the case was limited
and that the economic litigation procedures set forth in Code
of Civil Procedure sections 90-98-for limited civil
cases-should apply. The Commissioner's “brief
statement of the case” indicated that the case
concerned “unpaid wages, liquidated damages, interests,
and additional wages... in the amount of $6, 060.96.”
Beck later checked the same boxes on the case management
statement form he filed, and similarly represented that the
case concerned “the sum of $6, 060.96.” After
holding a case management conference, the superior court
ordered discovery to proceed under Code of Civil Procedure
superior court has discretion to permit an employee to raise
additional wage-related claims at the de novo trial, and the
court permitted Stratton to do so here. (Murphy v.
Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094,
1118-1119.) Approximately one month before trial, Stratton
filed a “Notice of Claims” that added statutory
minimum wage and wage statement claims and penalties in
matter proceeded to a bench trial. There, Stratton clarified
that his recently added wage statement claims were for
damages of $100 per day for each of the 612 days he spent
without accurate wage statements-a total of $61, 200. During
closing arguments, the court asked Beck if he wanted
“to say anything about the claim that as a result of
the incorrect November 27th, 2013, wage statement that Mr.
Stratton has suffered damages, general damages of $61,
000?” Beck told the court that the claim “took
[his] breath away, ” not least because the amount was
“way over the top” for a limited civil case. The
court told Beck the case was an unlimited one, to which Beck
responded, “Well, all right, then I'll withdraw
what I just said because I thought this was a limited
jurisdiction.” The court noted, “This is the only
courtroom in Mosk [Courthouse] that does both limited and
unlimited.” Beck proceeded with his substantive
argument and did not mention the jurisdictional
classification of the case further.
superior court issued a statement of decision in which it
found that Stratton was entitled to $303.55 in unpaid wages,
and noted that Beck had paid Stratton all but five cents of
that amount on the eve of trial. The court further awarded
Stratton a waiting time penalty of $6, 000 under Labor Code
section 203, a wage statement penalty of $750-rather than the
requested $61, 200-under Labor Code section 226, subdivision
(e)(1), and prejudgment interest of $28.85, for a total award
of $6, 778.85, exclusive of fees and costs. The court entered
judgment on October 21, 2015.
days later, on December 18, 2015, Stratton filed a motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to Labor Code sections 98.2,
subdivision (c) and 226, subdivision (e)(1), and California
Rules of Court, rule 3.1702. He sought $43, 835, computed as
79.7 hours at a rate of $550 per hour, plus an additional $3,