California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division
Cal.Rptr.3d 207] APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court
of Los Angeles County, James C. Chalfant, Judge. Affirmed as
modified. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS157056)
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
N. Feuer, City Attorney, Blithe S. Bock, Assistant City
Attorney, and Shaun Dabby Jacobs, Deputy City Attorney, for
Plaintiff and Appellant.
Doyle, City Attorney (San Jose), Nora Frimann, Assistant City
Attorney, and Elisa T. Tolentino, City Attorney, for League
of California Cities, California State Association of
Counties and California Special District’s Association as
Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.
Madruga Lemieux O’Neill, Steven P. O’Neill and Manuel D.
Serpa, for Interveners and Appellants.
Offices of Kelly Aviles, Kelly A. Aviles; and Jeff Glasser,
for Intervener, Cross-complainant and Appellant.
Townsend, Bruce D. Brown and Daniel J. Jeon, for Reporters
Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 media organizations
as Amici Curiae on behalf of Intervener, Cross-complainant
Scully, Heather Beatty, Heriberto F. Diaz and Bryan M. Otake,
for Defendant, Cross-defendant and Respondent.
appeal is from the trial court’s award of attorney fees in an
action consisting of a petition for writ of mandate and a
cross-petition under the California Public Records Act (Gov.
Code, � 6250 et seq. (CPRA)). The mandamus
petition was brought by the City of Los Angeles Department of
Water and Power (DWP) against the Metropolitan Water District
(MWD) to prevent MWD from disclosing records of DWP customers
to the San Diego Union Tribune (Union). Union intervened and
filed a CPRA cross-petition against MWD. Three other water
districts (Intervener Utilities) opposed
disclosure and intervened in the mandamus proceedings. The
trial court denied DWP’s petition for writ of mandate and
granted Union’s CPRA cross-petition, ordering disclosure of
Cal.Rptr.3d 208] The court awarded Union $25,319 in attorney
fees under CPRA against MWD for Union’s work on the CPRA
cross-petition up until the point where MWD agreed it would
produce complete customer names and addresses. For its work
opposing the mandamus petition, Union received $136,645.82 in
attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5
"against DWP and Intervener Utilities jointly and
severally. As between DWP and Intervener Utilities, the award
is apportioned so that DMP is solely responsible for the
$40,053 in collusion fees."
Intervener Utilities appeal, contending Union was not
entitled to attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure
section 1021.5, both because such attorney fees are not
authorized in actions involving CPRA requests and because
Union has not satisfied the requirements of section 1021.5.
conclude Union was eligible for attorney fees under CPRA for
work on the CPRA cross-petition and for attorney fees under
Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 for its work opposing
the petition for writ of mandate. (Pasadena Police
Officers Assn. v. City of Pasadena (2018) 22 Cal.App.5th
147, 159, 231 Cal.Rptr.3d 292');">231 Cal.Rptr.3d 292 (PPOA ).) The trial
court did not abuse its discretion in finding Union met the
requirements of Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 for
attorney fees. Union was the prevailing party and its action
resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting
the public interest, conferring a significant benefit on the
general public. DWP and Intervener Utilities were not exempt
from attorney fees on the ground they were the equivalent of
an individual who seeks a determination of "only his or
her [own] private rights [and] has done nothing to adversely
affect the public interest." (See Adoption of Joshua S.
(2008) 42 Cal.4th 945, 958, 70 Cal.Rptr.3d 372, 174 P.3d 192
(Joshua S. ).) DWP and Intervener Utilities sought
far more than a simple determination of the privacy rights of
a few customers.
separately contends the trial court abused its discretion in
awarding Union attorney fees on its unsuccessful claim that
DWP and MWD colluded to avoid CPRA and to bring the mandamus
petition. Compensation is ordinarily warranted even for
unsuccessful early claims in a series of attacks on an
opponent’s case, and so the trial court did not abuse its
discretion in finding attorney fees warranted for Union’s
initial "collusion" claims, particularly since
those claims touched on the emerging area of
also appeals, contending the trial court abused its
discretion in denying it attorney fees for its work preparing
separate reply briefs to three separate oppositions to fees
filed by MWD, DWP and Intervener Utilities. Union has also
filed a "protective" cross-appeal seeking
reapportionment of fees in the event we reverse any portion
of the trial court’s award. Union re-argues its claim that
DWP and Intervener Utilities lacked standing to bring a
petition for a writ of mandate to prevent disclosure of
records (hereafter the reverse-CPRA action). Union also
points to numerous problems with allowing reverse-CPRA
actions and asks that we hold such actions incompatible with
CPRA and so not permissible.
agree with Union that the trial court abused its discretion
in denying fees for Union’s work preparing the reply briefs,
and we order Union awarded fees for its work as to DWP and
Intervener Utilities only. We need not and do not reach the
issues in Union’s "protective" cross-appeal. We
hold DWP and Intervener Utilities had standing. We decline
Union’s suggestion to find reverse-CPRA actions impermissible
[255 Cal.Rptr.3d 209] as Union cross-appealed only the
attorney fees award.
trial court’s order awarding attorney fees against DWP and
Intervener Utilities is modified to add $12,350.33 in fees
against only those parties
jointly and severally. We affirm the trial court’s award in
all other respects, including all standing determinations.
a cooperative water wholesaler with 26 members, including DWP
and Intervener Utilities. In 2014, following then-Governor
Brown’s declaration that California was in a drought and
lawns and ornamental turf should be replaced with drought
tolerant landscapes, MWD began a Turf Removal Rebate Program.
MWD provided money or rebates to customers of its member
agencies who replaced their grass with drought tolerant
landscaping. MWD paid $370 to $450 million in rebates. Each
member agency had its own contract with MWD governing the
ability of the agency’s customers to participate in the
program. Some agencies offered a supplemental rebate to their
customers and some did not. There were about 40,000
participants in the Turf program, and about 7,800 of them
were DWP customers.
Controller for the City of Los Angeles questioned the utility
of turf removal programs and called DWP’s program
"largely a gimmick - a device intended to attract
attention and publicity." The Controller stated MWD’s
turf program "came at a rather high cost and, arguably
at the cost of some fairness." The Controller noted the
program’s rebates were concentrated in the western San
Fernando Valley and beneficiaries included "some
affluent households," "some private golf
courses," and "[o]ne particular contractor."
The Controller suggested DWP release the names and addresses
of residents who received rebates, stating that
"[b]illing information for customers ... is different
than the person who chooses to ask for an incentive or
[rebate] and gets money from ratepayers for that."
19, 2015, a Union reporter made a CPRA request to MWD for
information about the participants in the turf program,
including their names, addresses, and rebate amounts.
provides a streamlined and expedited process for public
access to government records, because "access to
information concerning the conduct of the people’s business
is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this
state." (� 6250.) CPRA provides that "every person
has a right to inspect any public record" (� 6253, subd.
(a)), "[e]xcept with respect to records exempt from
disclosure by express provisions of law." (� 6253, subd.
(b).) An agency has 10 days to respond to a CPRA request. One
14-day extension is permitted for specified purposes,
including consultation with another agency having
"substantial interest in the determination of the
request." (� 6253, subd. (c)(3).) No further delays are
authorized by the statute.
agency finds disclosure is required or appropriate, the
agency may simply provide the records to the requestor. If an
agency withholds records, the agency "shall justify
withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in
question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter
or that on the facts of the particular case the public
interest served by not disclosing the record clearly
outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the
record." (� 6255, subd. (a).)
MWD simply denied Union’s request, Union then could have
filed an action in the superior court to compel disclosure.
(� 6258.) That action would have been [255 Cal.Rptr.3d 210]
entitled to scheduling to "secur[e] a decision as to
these matters at the earliest possible time."
(Ibid .) Had Union prevailed in such an action (as
it did in this case on its cross-petition), Union would have
been entitled to reasonable attorney fees (� 6259, subd. (d))
and expedited handling of any appeal (� 6259, subd. (c)).
MWD did not comply with the statutory timelines for a
disclosure response and did not unequivocally deny the
request when it did respond. Before responding to Union’s
CPRA request, MWD provided DWP with a copy of the request.
DWP objected to revealing its customers’ names and addresses.
Ultimately MWD agreed with DWP to limit disclosure to only
generalized block numbers and MWD’s share of the rebate
amount. On June 29, 2015, MWD released this redacted
information to Union. MWD stated that the production
"conclude[d] Metropolitan’s response to your PRA
request." MWD did not provide any justification for its
July 7 and 8, 2015, Union objected to the redactions and
MWD’s failure to provide written justification for them. MWD
again conferred with DWP, who continued to object to
disclosure of its customers’ information.
31, 2015, DWP filed this lawsuit against MWD seeking to
enjoin MWD from releasing information about anyone who
participated in the turf rebate program, regardless of
whether they were DWP customers. Such an action is not
specifically authorized by CPRA, but this District Court of
Appeal has permitted non-statutory actions to prevent
disclosure of records requested under CPRA, that is
reverse-CPRA actions. (Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu
Unified School Dist. (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 1250, 136
Cal.Rptr.3d 395 (Marken ); see PPOA, supra,
22 Cal.App.5th 147, 231 Cal.Rptr.3d 292');">231 Cal.Rptr.3d 292.) Such reverse
actions have been viewed as necessary to protect the privacy
rights of individuals whose personal information may be