United States District Court, N.D. California
GLEN R. BASE, Plaintiff,
FCA U.S. LLC, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR
ATTORNEYS’ FEES, COSTS AND EXPENSES RE: DKT. NO.
C. SPERO CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Galen Base filed this action in Sonoma County Superior Court,
asserting claims against Defendant FCA U.S. LLC
(“FCA”) under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty
Act (“Song-Beverly Act”), Cal. Civ. Code section
1790, et seq. FCA removed the action to this Court
on the basis of diversity jurisdiction and the parties
eventually entered into a settlement agreement. Plaintiff now
brings a Motion for Attorneys’ Fees, Costs and Expenses
(“Motion”) as the prevailing party under
California Civil Code section 1794(d). A hearing on the
Motion was conducted on Friday, August 30, 2019 at 9:30 a.m.
For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED in part
and DENIED in part.
purchased a 2012 Dodge Ram 2500 on December 16, 2012.
Complaint ¶ 9. According to Plaintiff’s attorney,
Steve Mikhov, the vehicle began exhibiting “serious
transmission, engine, and electrical issues” within the
applicable express warranty period. Mikhov Decl. ¶ 4.
Although Plaintiff took the vehicle to an FCA repair facility
many times, FCA was never able to fix the problem.
Id. ¶ 5.
October 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action, retaining
Knight Law Group (“Knight Law”) to represent him
on a contingent basis. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. On
November 16, 2016, FCA offered to repurchase the vehicle for
$82, 500. Tudzin Decl. ¶ 5 & Ex. A. Plaintiff
rejected that offer. Mikhov Decl. ¶ 10. The parties then
engaged in discovery. Id. ¶ 11. They attended a
mediation on February 19, 2017, but it was unsuccessful.
Id. ¶ 12.
January 29, 2018, the law firm of Hackler Daghighian Marino
& Novack P.C. (“HDMN”) associated in to the
case to assist Knight Law with trial preparation; attorney
Sepehr Daghighian was to act as lead trial counsel in the
case. Id. ¶ 15.
October 23, 2018, FCA made Plaintiff a “reasonable
settlement offer that accounted for FCA’s egregious
actions under the Song-Beverly Act.” Mikhov Decl.
¶ 16 & Ex. E (“Rule 68 Offer”). Under
the Rule 68 Offer, FCA offered to pay Plaintiff $133, 000
plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. Id.
Plaintiff rejected the offer, but at a settlement conference
on April 5, 2019 agreed to settle the case for $135, 000 plus
attorneys’ fees and costs. Id. ¶ 16.
According to Mikhov, this amount amounted to a “full
statutory ‘buy-back’ of Plaintiff’s
defective vehicle, incidental and consequential damages, and
a civil penalty.” Id.
Motion, Plaintiff asks the Court to award attorneys’
fees in the amount of $124, 215.00, that is, a lodestar
amount of $82, 810.00 plus a .5 multiplier enhancement of
$41, 405.00. Plaintiff also seeks an award of costs in the
amount of $14, 797.93. The lodestar amount consists of fees
incurred by Knight Law in the amount of $44, 392.50 and fees
incurred by HDMN in the amount of $38, 417.50. Mikhov Decl.
¶ 2 & Ex. A (Knight Law time sheets); Daghighian
Decl. ¶ 8 & Ex. A (HDMN time sheets).
Plaintiff’s costs are set forth in his Bill of Costs.
Mikhov Decl., Ex. B.
challenges the amounts Plaintiff requests in the Motion. FCA
contends the rates requested are unreasonable, the time
billed is excessive, and that no multiplier should be
awarded. FCA asks the Court to reduce the hourly rates
requested by Plaintiff, reduce fees for “duplicative
billing, travel, unnecessary ‘review, ’ purely
clerical tasks, and unsupported or anticipated time, ”
and reduce HDMN’s fees by 20% based on its use of
15-minute increments, which FCA argues has resulted in
diversity actions, federal courts look to state law in
determining whether a party has a right to attorneys’
fees and how to calculate those fees. Mangold v. Cal.
Pub. Util. Comm’n, 67 F.3d 1470, 1478 (9th Cir.
1995). Under California law, buyers who prevail in an action
under the Song-Beverly Act are entitled 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 section 1794(d). A
party is a prevailing party if the court, guided by equitable
principles, decides that the party has achieved its
“main litigation objective.” Graciano v.
Robinson Ford Sales, Inc., 144 Cal.App.4th 140,
150–51 (2006); see also Wohlgemuth v. Caterpillar
Inc., 207 Cal.App.4th 1252, 1262 (2012) (holding that
“consumers who successfully achieve the goals of their
litigation through a compromise agreement” may recover
attorneys’ fees and costs as prevailing parties under
the Song-Beverly Act).
courts have found that in awarding fees under the
Song-Beverly Act, the trial court must “make an initial
determination of the actual time expended; and then [must]
ascertain 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 (1994). In evaluating the reasonableness of
counsel’s charges, the court may consider
“factors such as the complexity of the case and
procedural demands, the skill exhibited and the results
achieved.” Id. The prevailing party has the
burden of showing that the attorneys’ fees it requests
are reasonable. Id.
courts have further held that the Song-Beverly Act permits
the trial court to award a multiplier where it deems
appropriate under the lodestar adjustment method.
Robertson v. Fleetwood Travel Trailers of California,
Inc., 144 Cal.App.4th 785, 819 (2006) (citing
Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132 (2001)). In
Ketchum, the California Supreme Court explained:
[T]he lodestar is the basic fee for comparable legal services
in the community; it may be adjusted by the court based on
factors including, as relevant herein, (1) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions involved, (2) the skill displayed
in presenting them, (3) the extent to which the nature of the
litigation precluded other employment by the attorneys, (4)
the contingent nature of the fee award. . . . The purpose of
such adjustment is to fix a fee at the fair market value for
the particular action. In effect, the court determines,
retrospectively, whether the litigation involved a contingent
risk or required extraordinary legal skill justifying
augmentation of the unadorned lodestar in order to
approximate the fair market rate for such services.
24 Cal.4th at 1132 (citing Serrano v. Priest, 20
Cal.3d 25, 49 (1977)). A court may also, “for an
appropriate reason, ” make a downward adjustment under
the lodestar adjustment method, for example where the court
finds that time billed was excessive or that the tasks
performed were in connection with unrelated claims upon which
the party did not prevail. Graciano v. Robinson Ford
Sales, Inc., 144 Cal.App.4th 140, 161 (2006). It is
improper, however, to limit a fee award under the
Song-Beverly Act to a percentage of the prevailing
party’s recovery. Id. at 164. The
“[l]odestar analysis is generally the same under
California law and Federal law.” Rodriguez v. Cnty.
of Los Angeles, 2014 WL 8390755, *2 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 29,
has provided time sheets reflecting the time his counsel
spent on this litigation, broken down by specific task.
Mikhov Decl. ¶ 2 & Ex. A; Daghighian Decl. ¶ 8
& Ex. A. The timesheets reflect the following time billed
and requested rates for the attorneys who worked on the case:
• Alastair Hamblin: 2.2 hours at ...