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Jameson v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 16, 2019

APRIL K. JAMESON, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR CO. et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART, PLAINTIFF JAMESON MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES [32]

          OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On February 2, 2018, Plaintiff April K. Jameson (“Jameson”) filed suit against Defendant Ford Motor Co. (“Ford”) in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County for violation of California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. (Not. of Removal Ex. A (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1-1.) Subsequently, Ford removed the case to federal court, (Not. of Removal (“Removal”), ECF No. 1) and over a year later, parties filed a joint notice of settlement. (Not. of Settlement, ECF No. 20.) Plaintiff now moves for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $29, 406.21. For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS IN PART Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees (“Motion”). (Mot. for Att'y Fees (“Mot.”), ECF No. 32.)[1]

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 22, 2013, Jameson purchased a new 2013 Ford Fusion for $43, 490.16. (Mot. 3.) After three years and three months of owning the vehicle and driving it 53, 181 miles, Jameson began experiencing problems with the engine. (Mot. 3.) Jameson took the vehicle, while still within warranty, to a Ford-authorized repair facility after the vehicle began to shake and would not accelerate. (Mot. 3.) She also felt a loss of power and believed the vehicle would stall. (Mot. 3.) At that time, the repair technicians said they were unable to duplicate her concern. (Mot. 3.) She returned five weeks later with a similar concern and the technicians replaced the fuel low pressure sensor. (Mot. 3.) Although she still felt the vehicle lacked power, technicians made no further repairs. (Mot. 3.) Within two months, Jameson returned to the authorized facility because the “check engine” light was illuminated and the revolutions per minute meter intermittently fluctuated at idle. (Mot. 3.) The technicians replaced the faulty purge valve, but three weeks later Jameson felt her vehicle shake and shut off. (Mot. 3.) Even after jump starting the vehicle, it stopped operating after moving five feet. (Mot. 3.) To resolve this matter, the technicians replaced the battery. (Mot. 4.) During this visit, the Technicians attempted to address two recalls, but parts were only available for one of the recalls. (Mot. 4.) Even after five visits to the repair facility in four months, Jameson's problems with the vehicle remained unresolved. (Mot. 4.)

         On April 10, 2017 and twice thereafter, Jameson contacted Ford customer service and requested that Ford repurchase her vehicle. (Mot. 4.) Jameson never received a response. (Mot. 4.) With the assistance of counsel, she filed suit against Ford on February 2, 2018. (See Compl.) On October 2, 2018, counsel for Jameson propounded discovery requests to Ford. (Mot. 4.) In January 2019, counsel for Jameson made additional discovery requests and deposed Ford's “PMK.” (Mot. 5.) On or about January 30, 2019, Ford served Jameson with an Offer of Judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 68 in the amount of $107, 070.00. (Mot. 5.) On February 12, 2019, Jameson accepted their offer and she now moves for her attorney's fees. (Mot. 5.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “State law governs attorney fees in diversity cases.” Negrete v. Ford Motor Co., No. ED.18-cv-1972, 2019 WL 4221397, at *2 (C.D. Cal. June 5, 2019) (citing Riordan v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 589 F.3d 999, 1004 (9th Cir. 2009) (“In a diversity case, the law of the state in which the district court sits determines whether a party is entitled to attorney fees, and the procedure for requesting an award of attorney fees is governed by federal law”)).

         The California Song-Beverly Act authorizes an award of costs and expenses to plaintiffs prevailing in their claims pursuant to the act. Cal. Civ. Code § 1794(d). Plaintiffs may recover “a sum equal 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.” Id. However, the “prevailing buyer has the burden of showing that the fees incurred were allowable, were reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation, and were reasonable in amount.” Morris v. Hyundai Motor Am., 41 Cal.App. 5th 24');">41 Cal.App. 5th 24, 34, (Ct. App. 2019) (collecting case) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In determining the amount of attorney's fees award under § 1794(d), a court must utilize the “lodestar” method of calculating the award, accomplished by multiplying the No. of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Morris, 41 Cal.App. 5th at 34 (citing Meister v. Regents of Univ. of California, 67 Cal.App.4th 437, 448-49 (1998) (“the California Supreme Court intended its lodestar method to apply to a statutory attorney's fee award”)). Section 1794 requires a trial court to “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.” Id. Courts may grant an upward or downward departure based on (1) the complexity of the case and procedural demands, (2) the skill exhibited and results achieved, (3) the extent to which the nature of the litigation precluded other employment by the attorneys, and (4) the contingent nature of the fee award. Morris, 41 Cal.App. 5th at 34; Negrete, 2019 WL 4221397, at *2. If the court finds the time expended or the amount requested are not reasonable, it may award attorney fees in a lesser amount. Morris, 41 Cal.App. 5th at 34.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Jameson moves for costs in the amount of $4, 866.21, attorney's fees in the amount of $16, 360.00 and a lodestar modifier in the amount of $8, 180.00, totaling to $29, 406.21. (Mot. 2.) Ford does not dispute the amount in costs. (Opp'n to Mot. (“Opp'n”) 11, ECF No. 34.) Instead, Ford argues that the attorney's fees are unreasonable and asserts that the Court should grant at most $7, 500.00 in attorney's fee. (Opp'n 11.) Since parties do not dispute the costs, the Court GRANTS an award of $4, 866.21 in costs. The Court now considers the reasonableness of the fees using the lodestar method.

         A. Lodestar Analysis

         Plaintiff had six attorneys billing on this matter at the following rates ...


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