United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR
ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS RE: DKT. NO. 66
J. DAVILA United States District Judge
prevailing on its motion to dismiss, Defendant
Classics now seeks to recover $37, 686.20 in
attorneys' fees and costs from pro se Plaintiffs Salma
and David Merritt. Classics' motion will be GRANTED.
Merritts first brought this action in Santa Clara County
Superior Court, alleging conspiracy, invasion of privacy, and
disability discrimination arising from a dispute with
Classics about its parking policies. Dkt. No. 67-1 at
21-58. In that case, the court granted summary
judgment in Classics' favor (Dkt. No. 67-1 at 88-100),
declared the Merritts to be vexatious litigants (Dkt. No.
67-1 at 85-87), and awarded attorneys' fees and costs of
$235, 416 (Dkt. No. 67-2 at 26-44). The California Court of
Appeals affirmed the finding of vexatiousness (Dkt. No. 67-2
at 2-8), and the California Supreme Court denied review (Dkt.
No. 67-2 at 10).
Merritts then filed a federal action arising from the same
parking dispute, alleging civil rights violations under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and disability discrimination under Cal.
Civ. Code § 51. This Court granted Classics' motion
to dismiss because the Merritts' claims were barred as
res judicata. Dkt. No. 64 at 8-12. Classics now moves for
attorneys' fees and costs. Defs.' Mot. for
Att'ys' Fees and Costs (“Mot.”), Dkt. No.
argues that the Court should award attorneys' fees and
costs under Cal. Civ. Code § 1717, which allows fee
awards to the prevailing party in an action “on a
contract” when the contract has a fees
provision. The contract between Classics and the
Merritts provided that the prevailing party in litigation
“shall be entitled to recover costs, including
reasonable attorney's fees.” Declaration of
Restrictions (“CC&Rs”) § 13.13, Dkt. No.
67-2 at 101; see also Huntington Landmark Adult Cmty.
Ass'n v. Ross, 213 Cal.App.3d 1012, 1023-24 (1989)
(finding that CC&Rs are contracts for the purposes of
§ 1717). Classics argues that it meets the requirements
for recovery under § 1717: the CC&Rs included an
attorneys' fees provision, this case was an action
“on the contract, ” and Classics prevailed on its
motion to dismiss. Mot. at 6-8.
Merritts respond that § 1717 does not apply because they
have not asserted a contract claim. Pls.' Opp'n to
Defs.' Mot. for Att'ys Fees and Costs
(“Opp'n”) at 5-8, Dkt. No. 69. California
courts have held that § 1717 applies only to claims that
relate to enforcement of the terms of a contract. See,
e.g., McKenzie v. Kaiser-Aetna 55 Cal.App.3d
84, 89-90 (1976) (“The only reasonable interpretation
of section 1717 is that it reciprocates the allowance of
attorney's fees only when such fees are incurred to
enforce the provisions of the contract.”); Exxess
Electronixx v. Heger Realty Corp., 64 Cal.App.4th 698,
708 (1998) (“a tort claim is not ‘on a
contract' and is therefore outside the ambit of section
1717”); Walters v. Marler, 83 Cal.App.3d 1,
27-28 (1978) (“Section 1717 does not authorize the
award herein involved. The action was not, as the statute
requires, ‘on the contract, ' but in tort for fraud
in derogation of the contract.”).
non-contract claims can be “on the contract” if
they arise from the parties' contractual rights and
obligations. See Barrientos v. 1801-1825 Morton LLC,
583 F.3d 1197, 1216-17 (9th Cir. 2009) (awarding
attorneys' fees where tenants claimed that eviction
notices violated federal and local laws, because the
“complaint was one to enforce their rights as tenants
under the lease, ” even though the tenants did not
assert contract claims); Lafarge Conseils Et Etudes, S.A.
v. Kaiser Cement & Gypsum Corp., 791 F.2d 1334,
1339-41 (9th Cir. 1986) (holding that a motion to vacate an
arbitration award was an action on the underlying contract
that contained the arbitration provision). And in general,
courts construe § 1717 liberally. See Lafarge,
791 F.3d at 1340 (“This court has given the requirement
that an action be ‘on the contract' a liberal
scope.”); Brown Bark III, L.P. v. Haver, 219
Cal.App.4th 809, 821 (2013) (“California courts
construe the term ‘on a contract' liberally.
‘As long as the action involve[s] a contract it is on
[the] contract' within the meaning of section
1717.”) (internal citations and quotation marks
Court finds that the Merritts' claims are “on the
contract.” The CC&Rs give Classics the authority to
enact parking policies. See, e.g., CC&Rs §
3.4 (requiring occupants to “park their vehicles in
their garages” and granting authority to the Board to
“adopt Rules regulating parking”). The
Merritts' claims arise solely from Classics'
enforcement of those policies. See Order Granting
Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 2-7, Dkt. No. 64 (summarizing
the events giving rise to the dispute between Classics and
the Merritts). The state court agreed, finding that this case
“unquestionably regarded the rights and obligations of
the Association and plaintiffs under the CC&Rs.”
Dkt. No. 67-2 at 34.
Court also finds that Classics' fees and costs requests
are reasonable. Classics requests $32, 991 in fees for 165.9
hours billed (amounting to an average hourly rate of about
$200 per hour), as well as $4, 340 to bring this fees motion,
and $355.20 in costs. Mot. at 10-12. These amounts are
reasonable under the circumstances.
also seeks to recover fees and costs under 48 U.S.C. §
1988. Having found that Classics is entitled to fees and
costs under § 1717, the Court need not consider whether
Classics can also recover under § 1988.