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This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 03/11/2016 at 20:12:17 (UTC).

RICARDO PRADO ET. AL. VS. DARIN STOYTCHEV ET. AL.

Case Summary

On 08/19/2014 RICARDO PRADO filed an Other lawsuit against DARIN STOYTCHEV. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Santa Monica Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are LISA HART COLE and CRAIG D. KARLAN. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****2980

  • Filing Date:

    08/19/2014

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Other

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Santa Monica Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

LISA HART COLE

CRAIG D. KARLAN

 

Party Details

Plaintiffs

GARCIA ELVIRA

PRADO RICARDO

VILLEGAS GINA

VILLEGAS LUIS

Defendants

2234 VIRGINIA AVENUE HOMEOWNERS ASSOC.

COOK ALESIA

STOYTCHEV DARIN

EPSTEIN ESTHER

Other

STEPHEN J. DONELL

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff Attorneys

PRADO RICARDO & GARCIA ELVIRA

LORMAN BRUCE

Defendant Attorneys

EP

ESTHER EPSTEIN

Court Documents

Court documents are not available for this case.

 

Docket Entries

  • 03/01/2016
  • Notice (of filings of receiver first interim report ) Filed by Receiver

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  • 02/29/2016
  • Notice-Related Cases (SC 125420 Filed by Pltf in related case F Cunningham III ) Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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  • 11/12/2015
  • Notice (of receiver's inventory of property ) Filed by Receiver

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  • 10/14/2015
  • Oath of Receiver (Stephen J. Donell ) Filed by Receiver

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  • 10/14/2015
  • Undertaking filed (under 567(b)CCP American Contractors Indemnity Co. $5,000.00 ) Filed by Receiver

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  • 10/06/2015
  • Order (APPOINTING RECEIVER AFTER HEARING AND PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION ) Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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  • 09/30/2015
  • Response (to evidentiary objections ) Filed by Attorney for Defendant

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  • 09/28/2015
  • Objection Document Filed (evidentiary ) Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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  • 09/28/2015
  • Reply (memorandum of points and authorities in support of application ) Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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  • 09/22/2015
  • Memorandum - Other (of points and authorities in opposition to motion in limine ) Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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34 More Docket Entries
  • 09/16/2014
  • Answer (TO COMPLAINT ) Filed by Plaintiff & Plaintiff In Pro Per

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  • 09/16/2014
  • Proof of Service Filed by Defendant, & Defendant in Pro Per

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  • 09/16/2014
  • Request-Waive Court Fees Filed by Defendant, & Defendant in Pro Per

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  • 09/16/2014
  • Answer to Complaint Filed Filed by Defendant, & Defendant in Pro Per

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  • 09/16/2014
  • Order-Court Fee Waiver (COPY OF ORDER MAILED ON 9-16-14 TO APPLICANT/DEFENDANT ALESIA COOK. ) Filed by Defendant, & Defendant in Pro Per

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  • 08/25/2014
  • Proof-Service/Summons Filed by Plaintiff & Plaintiff In Pro Per

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  • 08/22/2014
  • Proof-Service/Summons Filed by Plaintiff & Plaintiff In Pro Per

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  • 08/21/2014
  • Miscellaneous-Other (CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE WITH ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION UNDER CIVIL CODE 5950 ) Filed by Plaintiff & Plaintiff In Pro Per

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  • 08/19/2014
  • Complaint Filed

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  • 08/19/2014
  • Summons Filed Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: SC122980    Hearing Date: September 15, 2020    Dept: O

Case Name:    Prado, et al. v. Stoytchev, et al.

Case No.: SC122980

Hearing: 9-15-20

Calendar #:    5

______________________________________________________________________________

SUBJECT: MOTION FOR THE OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFF’S REQUEST TO DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE  

MOVING PARTY:  Defendant Alesia Cook (in pro per)

RESP. PARTY: None as of 9-5-20

TENTATIVE RULING

Defendant Cook’s Motion for the Opposition to Plaintiff’s Request to Dismiss without Prejudice is DENIED.  Cook failed to file a proof of service of the motion. Regardless, Plaintiffs’ request to dismiss this action was granted and entered on 2-20-20. Cook’s request is therefore moot.  Moreover, subject to certain exceptions that do not apply here, a plaintiff has an unfettered right to voluntarily dismiss the action by written request.  See CCP §581(b)(1). Cook’s reliance on Pace v. Express Co (7th Cir. 1969) 409 F.2d 331 is misplaced, as it is a federal case involving dismissal of class actions. There is no applicable authority for the court to reject or set aside Plaintiff’s dismissal of this case.

Case Name:    Prado, et al. v. Stoytchev, et al.

Case No.: SC122980

Hearing: 9-15-20

Calendar #:    5

______________________________________________________________________________

SUBJECT: MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES

MOVING PARTY:  Plaintiffs Ricardo Prado, Elvira Garcia, Luis Villegas and Gina Villegas

RESP. PARTY: (1)  Defendant Stoytchev (in pro per)

TENTATIVE RULING

Plaintiffs Ricardo Prado, Elvira Garcia, Luis Villegas and Gina Villegas’s Motion for Attorney’s Fess is GRANTED. Plaintiff is to submit the order awarding Plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees in the amount of $181,492.50 against Defendants Darin Stoytchev, Alesia Cook and 2234 Virginia Avenue Homeowners Association, jointly and severally.

REASONING

Plaintiffs move for fees pursuant to CC §5975(c).  Section 5975(c) provides, “In an action to enforce the governing documents, the prevailing party shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.” 

I.  Plaintiffs’ action was one to enforce the governing documents.

Whether an action qualifies as one to enforce the governing documents depends on the “gravamen” of the complaint.  See Rancho Mirage Country Club HOA v. Hazelbaker (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 252, 259 (“gravamen” of HOA’s complaint was that defendants had not taken steps to bring their property into compliance with applicable CC&Rs).  “We see nothing in the Davis–Stirling Act that suggests we should give more weight to the form of a complaint—its framing as an action to enforce a mediation agreement—than to the substance of the claims asserted and relief sought, in determining whether an action is one ‘to enforce the governing documents’ in the meaning of section 5975.”  Id. at 260 (lawsuit to enforce an agreement reached during mediation qualified as action “to enforce the governing documents” in the meaning of section 5975).  The Supreme Court has applied Section 5795 to award fees to a prevailing defendant where the complaint clearly sought enforcement of CC&Rs, but it was ultimately determined the CC&Rs did not exist.  See Tract 19051 HOA v. Kemp (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1135, 1147-1148 (based on mutuality of similar attorney fees provisions, defendant was entitled to recover CC 5975(c) fees despite ultimate finding CC&Rs did not exist).

Plaintiffs establish the action was one to enforce the governing documents. The complaint alleged causes of action for breach of contract, breach of covenant and violation of the Davis Stirling Act.  See Motion, Dec. of B. Lorman, Ex. 1.  The complaint alleged that the property was in a state of disrepair, that the HOA as controlled or governed by Defendants refused to take the necessary action to repair the property, that Defendant Cook took over common areas for private use, that the HOA failed to provide reports to the Franchise Tax Board, that the Defendants refused to allow for a Special Assessment to address any of these issues, that Defendants refused to update the Master Management Documents or amend the Articles of Incorporation.  Id. at ¶¶8-15.  Plaintiffs’ prayer for relief sought specific enforcement to address these breaches and damages.  Id. at pp. 5-6. 

Although the complaint does not use the language “enforcement of the CC&Rs” or identify what sections of the CC&Rs Defendants violated, the causes of action specifically reference the Davis Sterling Act and CC §5975(c).  More importantly, the Order Appointing Receiver ordered the Receiver to perform the acts requested by Plaintiffs in the complaint, and the Order ties those acts to enforcement of specific sections of the CC&Rs.  See Motion, Dec. of B. Lorman, Ex. 4, Order Appointing Receiver, Attachment 27, ¶¶1,5-8,12.  Based on the order appointing receiver, the action clearly sought and obtained enforcement of the existing CC&Rs, as well as compliance with applicable laws governing maintenance, use and operation of the Property.  Id. at pp. 2-4. 

Defendant Cook asserts the litigation is not one to enforce the CC&Rs but a personal litigation between unit owners based on personal animosity or grievance.  Cook erroneously assumes the litigation cannot involve both, an action to enforce the CC&Rs involving personal upset between the parties.  Defendant Stoytchev does not argue the action was not one to enforce the CC&Rs. 

Cook also argues CC §5975(c) only applies to actions between an HOA and individual unit owners, not actions that are brought by individual unit owners against other individual unit owners.  Again, Cook is wrong. CC §5975(a) provides, “The covenants and restrictions in the declaration shall be enforceable equitable servitudes, unless unreasonable, and shall inure to the benefit of and bind all owners of separate interests in the development. Unless the declaration states otherwise, these servitudes may be enforced by any owner of a separate interest or by the association, or by both.”  CC §5975(b) provides, “A governing document other than the declaration may be enforced by the association against an owner of a separate interest or by an owner of a separate interest against the association.”  CC §5975(b).  “Governing documents” means “the declaration and any other documents, such as bylaws, operating rules, articles of incorporation, or articles of association, which govern the operation of the common interest development or association.”  CC §4150.  Cook fails to establish that the action was for “enforcement of a governing document other than the declaration.”  Based on the complaint and the Order Appointing Receiver, the action was entirely or largely for enforcement of the declaration of CC&Rs 

II.  Plaintiffs are the prevailing parties in this action

“The Davis–Stirling Act does not define ‘prevailing party’ or provide a rubric for that determination.  In the absence of statutory guidance, California courts have analyzed analogous fee provisions and concluded that the test for prevailing party is a pragmatic one, namely whether a party prevailed on a practical level by achieving its main litigation objectives.”  Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Assn. v. Carson (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 761, 773 (quoting Heather Farms Homeowners Assn. v. Robinson (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1568, 1574).  The trial court must determine who is the prevailing party by analyzing who prevailed on a practical level, and its findings must be affirmed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. See Heather Farms Homeowners Assn., supra, 21 Cal.App.4th at 1574.

Whether a party is the prevailing party for attorney’s fees under CC §5975 is a distinct issue from whether party is the prevailing party for costs under CCP §1032.  Case law rejects the position that the definition of “prevailing party” for costs is the same as that for statutory attorney’s fees.  “[T]he premise for [Association's] argument, that a litigant who prevails under the cost statute is necessarily the prevailing party for purposes of attorney fees, has been uniformly rejected by the courts of this state. Furthermore, ... section 1032, subdivision (a) only defines ‘[p]revailing party’ as the term is used ‘in that section.’ It does not purport to define the term for purposes of other statutes.”  Heather Farms, supra, 21 Cal.App.4th at p. 1572; see also Salehi, supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1152-1153. 

A voluntary dismissal does not preclude a finding of prevailing party status under CC §5975).  See Alamanor, supra, 246 Cal.App.4th at 773; Parrot v. Mooring Townhomes Assn. (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 873, 878.  “[T]he limitations applicable to contractual fee-shifting clauses, codified at section 1717, do not apply.”  Alamanor, supra, 246 Cal.App.4th at 773. 

Plaintiffs requested dismissal of this action on 2-20-20, having achieved all their litigation objectives, and the Court granted the request on that date.  See Motion, Dec. of B. Lorman, ¶44.  Plaintiffs’ voluntary dismissal does not preclude a finding that they are prevailing parties under CC §5975(c), so long as they achieved their litigation objectives on a practical level.  See Alamanor, supra, 246 Cal.App.4th at 773; Heather Farms, supra, 21 Cal.App.4th at p. 1572. 

Plaintiffs achieved their litigation objective on a practical level and are prevailing parties under CC §5975(c).  Plaintiffs successfully obtained an order appointing a Receiver over the Property and the Receiver fulfilled each of Plaintiffs’ demands in their complaint.  The Receiver’s order tracked the complaint demands.  See Motion, Dec. of B. Lorman, Ex. 4, Order Appointing Receiver, Attachment 27.  Defendants’ objections to the Receiver’s petition for instructions were overruled by the Court, and the Receiver and Plaintiffs’ proposals were approved by the Court.  Id. at Exs. 9, 18, 22. 

Defendant Cook concedes that Plaintiffs achieved their litigation objective and prevailed on a practical level.  However, Defendant Stoytchek argues Plaintiffs cannot be deemed the prevailing party, because no trial was held and if it had been held, Plaintiffs would have lost.  Defendant Stoytchek also argues any victories Plaintiffs achieved in court were based on misrepresentations. 

Defendant Stoytchek’s assertion that the Court stated no prevailing party could be determined absent a trial misconstrues the Court’s 11-15-19 Order.  The Court stated that until the claims were “formally resolved” or the parties stipulated to the prevailing party status, the Court could not deem anyone a prevailing party.  Stoytchek misunderstands the Court’s use of the words “formally resolved” to mean “formally resolved by trial.” In fact, claims can be “formally resolved” on the merits at trial or by way of a dismissal. Here, the claims were “formally resolved” by voluntary dismissal on 2-20-20. 

Stoytchek also selectively quotes the 11-15-19 Order to support his assertion that he had a right to be heard on Plaintiffs’ claims.  The 11-15-19 Order clearly indicates that so long as the action was pending, Defendants had a right to be heard on the claims against them.  Dismissal of the action against them on 2-20-20 mooted the need to defend against the Plaintiffs’ claims.

Finally, Stoytchek’s assertions that Plaintiffs only achieved their litigation objectives through misrepresentations and that Plaintiffs would have failed at trial are irrelevant to the prevailing party analysis under CC §5975.  The Court need only determine whether Plaintiffs achieved their litigation objectives upon dismissal, not whether Plaintiffs would have prevailed at trial or whether Plaintiffs fraudulently achieved those objectives.

Plaintiffs achieved their litigation objectives prior to dismissal of the action.  Plaintiffs are therefore the prevailing parties for purposes of CC §5975(c).

III.  The amount of fees requested is reasonable. 

“A court assessing attorney fees begins with a touchstone or lodestar figure, based on the ‘careful compilation of the time spent and reasonable hourly compensation of each attorney ... involved in the presentation of the case. The lodestar is the basic fee for comparable legal services in the community; it may be adjusted by the court based on factors including ... (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...Anchoring the calculation of attorney fees to the lodestar adjustment method is the only way of approaching the problem that can claim objectivity, a claim which is obviously vital to the prestige of the bar and the courts. When using the lodestar method to calculate attorney fees the ultimate goal is to determine a ‘reasonable’ attorney fee.” Mountjoy v. Bank of America, N.A. (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 266, 271-72 (trial court improperly reduced fee request by 70% across the board based on finding that 70% of the billing entries were block billed or too vague to determine what tasks had been performed; mere fact that 70% of entries were flawed in form did not establish that 70% of the total hours spent were unreasonable).

Plaintiffs request fees in the amount of $181,492.50.  See Dec. of B. Lorman, ¶59. Plaintiffs contend the fees are reasonable and are based on 501.25 hours of attorney time from March 2015 to March 2020 and 12.25 hours of attorney time in April 2020 at a rate of $350/hour.  Id. at ¶¶57-59.  Counsel provides billing statements in support of the amounts requested.  Id. at Ex. 28. 

Defendants fail to specifically identify any specific items that are subject to challenge as excessive, duplicative or unrelated.  Defendants claim Plaintiffs generally inflated all costs relating to the Property and this litigation unnecessarily.  Such general arguments are insufficient to overcome Plaintiffs’ showing of reasonable fees.

Using Plaintiffs’ lodestar figure and considering that this litigation was pending for nearly six years, involved appointment of a receiver and extensive revamping of the Property and the HOA documents, Plaintiffs’ request for $181,492.50 in fees is reasonable.  Plaintiffs’ Motion for Attorney’s Fees is GRANTED.