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Arias v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 20, 2019

LUPE ARIAS and JAVIER ARIAS, Plaintiffs,
v.
FCA U.S. LLC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS

          JOHN A. MENDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Lupe Arias and Javier Arias (“Plaintiffs”) request $120, 103.25 in attorney's fees and costs resulting from the settlement of their claims against FCA U.S. LLC. (“Defendant”) for violation of statutory obligations. Mot., ECF No. 42. Plaintiffs seek these attorney's fees and costs pursuant to Cal. Civ. Code § 1794(d) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1)-(2). Id. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' motion.[1]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 11, 2017, Plaintiffs sued Defendant under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1790, et seq., and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301, et seq., for defects that arose in their 2015 Jeep Cherokee. See Notice of Removal Ex. A, ECF No. 1. Following approximately one and a half years of litigation, the parties settled. See ECF No. 37. The Court granted the parties 90 days to resolve all terms of the agreement, including the issue of attorney's fees and costs. Order, ECF No. 38. Unable to reach an agreement with Defendant, Plaintiffs now move for an award of attorney's fees and costs. Mot., ECF No. 42. Defendant opposes this motion. Opp'n, ECF No. 44.

         II. OPINION

         A. Attorney's Fees

         1. Legal Standard

         District courts follow the forum state's law for awarding attorney's fees when exercising their diversity jurisdiction over state-law claims. Close v. Sotheby's Inc., 909 F.3d 1204, 1208 (9th Cir. 2018). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2) merely sets the procedure for claiming attorney's fees. See MRO Commc'ns, Inc. v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 197 F.3d 1276, 1281 (9th Cir. 1999). Thus, section 1794(d) of the Song-Beverly Act governs here. It provides that the prevailing party shall be allowed to recover 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 § 1794(d) (emphasis added).

         The prevailing party bears the burden of demonstrating that the fees were: (1) allowable; (2) reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation; and (3) reasonable in amount. Nightingale v. Hyundai Motor Am., 31 Cal.App.4th 99, 104 (Ct. App. 1994) (internal citations omitted). The court retains discretion to reduce the fee award where fees were not reasonably incurred. See Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.App.4th 1122, 1132 (Cal. 2001).

         The “lodestar method” is the primary method for determining the reasonableness of an attorney's fee request under the Song-Beverly Act. Id. at 1135. Pursuant to that method, attorney's fee awards are computed in a two-step process. First, the court calculates the lodestar: the “the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate.” Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Cty. of San Bernardino, 188 Cal.App.4th 603, 616 (Ct. App. 2010), as modified (Oct. 18, 2010). “Generally, the reasonable hourly rate used for the lodestar calculation is that prevailing in the community for similar work.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The court may then increase or decrease the lodestar calculation amount based on factors such as “the novelty and difficulty of the issues, the attorneys' skill in presenting the issues, the extent to which the case precluded the attorneys from accepting other work, and the contingent nature of the work.” Id. at 772-73. “The purpose of such adjustment is to fix a fee at the fair market value for the particular action.” Ketchum, 24 Cal.App.4th at 1132. The party seeking attorney's fees bears the burden of proving that its requested fees are reasonable. Ctr. for Biological Diversity, 188 Cal.App.4th at 616.

         2. Analysis

         a. Hours Reasonably Expended

         Plaintiffs submits “Time Records, ” itemizing the time spent by attorney Jill Harris on this case. Pl.'s Ex. J, ECF No. 42. The Court finds that not all of the hours Plaintiffs' counsel billed are reasonable. Plaintiffs' counsel “anticipates” an additional eight hours will be spent reviewing Defendant's opposition, drafting the reply, and attending a motion on the hearing. Mem. ECF No. 41 at 3. There was no hearing on this motion and Plaintiffs replied to Defendant's opposition in seven brief paragraphs. See Reply, ECF No. 46. Thus, the Court strikes the hours billed for the cancelled hearing from the fee award. See, e.g., Johnson v. Yates, No. ...


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