This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 05/31/2019 at 03:53:30 (UTC).

BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM, INC. VS ALAMITOS LAND COMPANY

Case Summary

On 10/13/2017 BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM, INC filed a Contract - Other Contract lawsuit against ALAMITOS LAND COMPANY. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are MICHAEL P. VICENCIA, ROSS KLEIN, DEBRE K. WEINTRAUB and MAURICE A. LEITER. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****1431

  • Filing Date:

    10/13/2017

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Contract - Other Contract

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

MICHAEL P. VICENCIA

ROSS KLEIN

DEBRE K. WEINTRAUB

MAURICE A. LEITER

 

Party Details

Plaintiffs

BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC. A CA CORP

BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC.

Defendants

ALAMITOS RIDGE LLC A CA LTD LIABILITY

DOES 1 THROUGH 100

GEOFFREY LE PLASTRIER AN INDIVIDUAL

BRAWLEY-MEMPHIS LLC

ALAMITOS LAND COMPANY A CA CORP

BONEYARD LLC A DELAWARE LTD CO.

BONYARD LLC

ALAMITOS RIDGE LLC

ALAMITOS LAND COMPANY

DOES 1-100

LE PLASTRIER GEOFFREY

GEOFFREY LE PLASTRIER AN

ENTERPRISE COUNSEL GROUP ALC

LE PLASTRIER MANAGEMENT COMPANY INC. A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION

Other

LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff Attorneys

SONGSTAD RANDALL COFFEE & HUMPHREY LLP

SONGSTAD L. ALLAN JR.

SONGSTAD LESLIE ALLAN JR

Defendant Attorneys

ENTERPRISE COUNSEL GROUP ALC

ROBINSON DAVID A.

ROBINSON DAVID ALLEN

 

Court Documents

Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt

12/4/2017: Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt

Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt

12/4/2017: Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt

Minute Order

1/4/2018: Minute Order

Unknown

1/10/2018: Unknown

Notice

1/16/2018: Notice

Notice of Status Conference and Order

1/29/2018: Notice of Status Conference and Order

Unknown

1/29/2018: Unknown

Unknown

4/19/2018: Unknown

Minute Order

5/15/2018: Minute Order

Notice of Motion

10/19/2018: Notice of Motion

Motion for Summary Judgment

10/19/2018: Motion for Summary Judgment

Request for Judicial Notice

10/19/2018: Request for Judicial Notice

Declaration

10/19/2018: Declaration

Declaration

10/19/2018: Declaration

Objection

1/22/2019: Objection

Declaration

1/22/2019: Declaration

Order Appointing Court Approved Reporter as Official Reporter Pro Tempore

2/5/2019: Order Appointing Court Approved Reporter as Official Reporter Pro Tempore

Brief

2/22/2019: Brief

78 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 05/24/2019
  • Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; Filed by BONYARD, LLC (Defendant); BRAWLEY-MEMPHIS, LLC (Defendant); GEOFFREY LE PLASTRIER (Defendant)

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  • 05/09/2019
  • Stipulation - No Order (Stipulation Regarding Third Cause of Action for Declaratory Relief); Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM, INC. (Plaintiff)

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  • 03/06/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department A, Maurice A. Leiter, Presiding; Ruling on Submitted Matter

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  • 03/06/2019
  • Certificate of Mailing for (Minute Order (Ruling on Submitted Matter) of 03/06/2019); Filed by Clerk

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  • 03/06/2019
  • Minute Order ( (Ruling on Submitted Matter)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 02/22/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department A, Maurice A. Leiter, Presiding; Non-Appearance Case Review (re Receipt of Brief re Easements and Taking the Matter Under Submission) - Not Held - Taken Off Calendar by Court

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  • 02/22/2019
  • Brief (Barto/Signal Petroleum, Inc.'s Supplemental Brief Regarding Plaintiff?s Declaratory Relief Cause of Action Related to the Surge Easements); Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff)

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  • 02/22/2019
  • Brief (Defendants' Brief Re: Lack of Justiciable "Case and Controversy"); Filed by BONYARD, LLC (Defendant); BRAWLEY-MEMPHIS, LLC (Defendant); GEOFFREY LE PLASTRIER (Defendant)

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  • 02/22/2019
  • Minute Order ( (Non-Appearance Case Review re Receipt of Brief re Easements a...)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 02/22/2019
  • Declaration (of L. Allan Songstand, Jr., Esq. in Support of Barto/Signal Petroleum, Inc.'s Supplemental Brief Regarding Plaintiff?s Declaratory Relief Cause of Action Related to the Surge Easements); Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff)

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113 More Docket Entries
  • 10/23/2017
  • Affidavit of Prejudice - Challenge; Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff)

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Summons; Filed by null

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Complaint; Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff); BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM, INC. (Plaintiff)

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Summons Filed; Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Summons; Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff)

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Complaint; Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff); BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM, INC. (Plaintiff)

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Civil Case Cover Sheet; Filed by BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM INC., A CA CORP (Plaintiff); BARTO/SIGNAL PETROLEUM, INC. (Plaintiff)

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Notice of Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Order (TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING); Filed by Clerk

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  • 10/13/2017
  • Complaint Filed (SUMMONS ISSUED ); Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: NC061431    Hearing Date: October 29, 2019    Dept: A

# 9. Barto/Signal Petroleum, Inc. v. Alamitos Land Company, et al.

Case No.: NC061431

Matter on calendar for: Motion for Attorneys’ Fees; Motion to Tax Costs

Tentative ruling:

  1. Background

    This is a breach of contract case involving a 1999 settlement agreement. In 1995, plaintiff Barto/Signal Petroleum, Inc. operated an oil field known as the Signal Hill East Unit. Defendant Alamitos Land Company filed suit regarding Barto’s operation of the field. The parties resolved the case in November 1999 by entering into a settlement agreement. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Barto and Alamitos Land entered into another agreement called the Surface Use Relinquish Agreement and Grant of Easement (“SURGE”). The SURGE concerned an area located within Signal Hill East Unit known as the Boneyard. The SURGE granted easements allowing Barto to use the property for its oil operations. Under Section 3.4.5 of the settlement agreement, Alamitos Land agreed to convey 21 buildable Boneyard lots (the “Oil Lots”) to Barto after Alamitos Land, or its successors, had completed all residential development on the property. The Complaint alleges that Alamitos Land conveyed the Boneyard to defendant Alamitos Ridge, LLC. Alamitos Ridge conveyed the property to Boneyard, LLC, in 2009. The SURGE was twice amended by Barto and Alamitos Land. The first amendment was on October 20, 2006, the second on April 16, 2008. Starting in 2010, Boneyard LLC failed to pay the real property taxes on the Oil Lots. The tax default resulted in the December 2016 sale of the Oil Lots by the Treasurer and Tax Collector of Los Angeles County. The Complaint alleges that defendant Geoffrey Le Plastrier, through defendant Brawley-Memphis, LLC, purchased six Oil Lots at the sale. In April 2017, Barto learned of the sale and demanded Brawley convey the lots to Barto. Brawley refused. The instant Complaint was filed on October 13, 2017. The Complaint alleged the following causes of action:

  1. Breach of contract;

  2. Specific performance;

  3. Declaratory relief; and

  4. Fraud and deceit

    The Court granted summary judgment as to the first, second, and fourth causes of action. The parties then stipulated to the remaining third cause of action for declaratory relief. Defendants now move for an award of $666,539.50 attorneys’ fees, and Plaintiff moves to tax costs.

  1. Standard

    1. Recoverable costs

      Code of Civil Procedure § 1032(b) states that a prevailing party is entitled as a matter of right to recover costs in any action or proceeding, absent a statute expressly providing otherwise. Section 1032(a)(4) defines prevailing party as including: (1) the party with a net monetary recovery, (2) a defendant in whose favor a dismissal is entered, (3) a defendant where neither plaintiff nor defendant obtains any relief, (4) a defendant as against those plaintiffs who do not recover any relief against that defendant, and (5) if any party recovers other than monetary relief and in situations other than as specified, the prevailing party shall be as determined by the court, and under those circumstances, the court, in its discretion, may allow costs or not and, if allowed, may apportion costs between the parties on the same or adverse sides pursuant to rules adopted under Section 1034. (C.C.P., § 1032(a)(4).)

The memorandum of cost is a verified statement by the party, attorney, or agent that the costs are correct and were necessarily incurred in the case. (Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 3.1700(a)(1).) “If the items appear to be proper charges, the verified memorandum is prima facie evidence that the costs, expenses and services therein listed were necessarily incurred by the defendant, and the burden of showing that an item is not properly chargeable or is unreasonable is upon the [objecting party].” (Oak Grove School Dist. v. City Title Ins. Co. (1963) 217 Cal.App.2d 678, 698.) “[I]f the correctness of the memorandum is challenged either in whole or in part by the affidavit or other evidence of the contesting party, the burden is then on the party claiming the costs and disbursements to show that the items charged were for matters necessarily relevant and material to the issues involved in the action.” (Id. at 699.)

Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure § 1033.5(c), an award of costs shall be subject to the following: “(1) Costs are allowable if incurred, whether or not paid. (2) Allowable costs shall be reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation rather than merely convenient or beneficial to its preparation. (3) Allowable costs shall be reasonable in amount. (4) Items not mentioned in this section ... may be allowed or denied ... in the Court’s discretion.” (C.C.P., § 1033.5(c)(4).)

  1. Analysis

    1. Prevailing Party

A prevailing party determination for costs under Code of Civil Procedure § 1032 is separate and distinct from an award of attorneys’ fees under Civil Code § 1717. (Zintel Holdings, LLC v. McLean (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 431, 438.) Civil Code § 1717 governs attorneys’ fees and the determination of the prevailing party for actions based on contracts providing for attorneys’ fees to the successful litigant. “[T]he party prevailing on the contract shall be the party who recovered a greater relief in the action on the contract. The court may also determine that there is no party prevailing on the contract for purposes of this section.” (Civ. Code, § 1717(b)(1).) In making this determination, “[o]f greatest significance [ ] is the relative extent of the success of each party in comparison to its basic litigation position ….” (de la Cuesta v. Benham (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 1287, 1296.) “However, when the judgment is a ‘“simple, unqualified win”’ for one party on the only contract claims presented, the trial court has no discretion to deny an attorney fee award to that party under section 1717. [Citation.]” (Zintel Holdings, supra, 209 Cal.App.4th at 439.)

Although the parties stipulated that the easements on the properties are still in effect, Defendants achieved the greater success in the action by succeeding on their statute of limitations defense, which prevented the transfer of the disputed Oil Lots to Plaintiff. Such a finding also provides guidance for the Court’s discretion on the issue of costs, as no monetary relief was achieved. Accordingly, Defendants are properly characterized as the prevailing party in this action under both Code of Civil Procedure § 1032 and Civil Code § 1717.

    1. Recoverable Costs

Plaintiff moves to strike the following from the memorandum of costs:

      1. Item 4:

Plaintiff challenged Item 4 on the basis that this was a contract interpretation case and no extrinsic evidence was submitted for the dispositive summary judgment motion. This argument fails to outline who Slater is or why his deposition was unnecessary. Defendants argue the deposition would have been vital to their case and one of Plaintiff’s potential witnesses. (Tax, Opp., p. 8.) Plaintiff’s argument that Slater’s deposition was unnecessary fails to meet its burden. As to videotaping the deposition, Section 1033.5(a)(3)(A) allows the costs.

      1. Item 11

As to Item 11, Defendants argue that the court reporter fees were not for transcripts, but the reporter’s fee. These are separate costs and the court reporter’s fee is recoverable. (Chaaban v. Wet Seal, Inc. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 49, 58.)

      1. Item 14

Item 14 is the “other” category. Defendants seek to recover costs for mediation, certified copies, mileage reimbursement and delivery fees. The attempted mediation was beneficial to the parties, but not necessary to the litigation. Similarly, the messenger/courier fees were of a beneficial nature. Acquiring certified copies is an investigatory expense precluded under CCP § 1033.5(b)(2).

The Court grants the motion to tax in the amount of $12,050.97.

    1. Motion for Attorneys’ Fees

“‘[T]he fee setting inquiry in California ordinarily begins with the “lodestar,” i.e., the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by the reasonable hour rate .... The reasonable hourly rate is that prevailing rate in the community for similar work. [Citations.] The lodestar figure may then be adjusted, based on consideration of factors specific to the case, in order to fix the fee at the fair market value for the legal services provided. [Citation.]’ [PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1095]” (City of Santa Rosa v. Patel (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 65, 69.)

Various factors to be considered are: “(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. [Citation.]” (Ibid.) An adjustment may also account for the “‘lack of overall success.’” (Harman v. City and County of San Francisco (2007) 158 Cal.App.4th 407, 425.) “The ‘“experienced trial judge is the best judge of the value of professional services rendered in his court, and while his judgment is of course subject to review, it will not be disturbed unless the appellate court is convinced that it is clearly wrong.”’ [Citation.]” (Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132.)

Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ rates are unreasonably high, while Defendants argue their rate is reasonable based on the 2018 Real Rate Report. (Mtn. at 8.) Defendants make multiple citations to the Real Rate Report but fail to attach it, instead opting to declare that the cited figures are correct. (Decl. Robinson ¶ 5.) This is not extensively supportive, but the rates charged by Defendants’ attorneys are, in this Court’s experience, on par with those in the community and the resumes of respective attorneys. Although Plaintiff notes Defendants’ rates are different than the various cited cases, Plaintiff fails to otherwise show the rates are unreasonable.

The issue comes down to whether Defendants’ fees are duplicative and padded, as urged by Plaintiff, or collaborative, as argued by Defendants. However, Plaintiff does not provide specifics as to which entries are duplicative. The Court has reviewed the submitted invoices and marked a total of $39,851.50 of charges that represent excessive collaboration as to be duplicative. These entries involved instances such as multiple, higher level attorneys reviewing the same documents or duplicative review of discovery responses.

The sum also includes fees related to the second motion for judgment on the pleadings. At that point in the litigation, the final remaining cause of action had been stipulated to rendering any such motion unnecessary. A review of the relevant invoices from May–June 2019 shows Defendants billed $10,001.50 related to the second motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Decl. Robinson, Exh. F.)

  1. Ruling

    The motion to tax costs is granted. Defendants’ costs are taxed $12,050.97. The motion for attorneys’ fees is granted. Defendants are awarded $626,688 in attorneys’ fees.

    Next dates:

    Notice: