On 12/14/2017 SHAHRIAR YAZDANNIAZ filed a Contract - Other Contract lawsuit against FCA US LLC. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are RICHARD FRUIN and YOLANDA OROZCO. The case status is Other.
Los Angeles County Superior Courts
Stanley Mosk Courthouse
Los Angeles, California
ORANGE COAST CHRYSLER JEEP DODGE
FCA US LLC
DOES 1 THROUGH 10
ORANGE COAST AUTO GROUP LLC
ORANGE COAST AUTO GROUP LLC AKA ORANGE COAST CHYRSLER JEEP DODGE
KNIGHT LAW GROUP LLP
LEAR EDWARD O
LEAR EDWARD O.
NIXON PEABODY LLP
GILEFSKY JUDD A.
HUGHES SAMANTHA J.
7/3/2019: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (HEARING ON EX PARTE APPLICATION TO CONTINUE THE TRIAL PER STI...)
8/8/2019: Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR (COURT ORDER) OF 08/08/2019
1/3/2020: Opposition - OPPOSITION OPPOSITION TO MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS
1/9/2020: Reply - REPLY PLAINTIFFS REPLY TO DEFENDANTS OPPOSITION TO MOTION AND MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS FEES
3/3/2020: Notice - NOTICE OF ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE DISMISSAL
3/12/2018: NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE AND ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE PROOF OF SERVICE
4/5/2018: CIVIL DEPOSIT
8/21/2018: SUBSTITUTION OF ATTORNEY -
9/6/2018: NOTICE OF ISSUANCE OF COURT'S MINUTE ORDER
2/27/2019: Minute Order - Minute Order (Post-Mediation Status Conference)
4/8/2019: Memorandum - MEMORANDUM PLAINTIFF'S MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE PORTIONS OF PLAINTIFF'S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT
4/15/2019: Notice - NOTICE OF DEFENDANTS NON-OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFFS MOTION TO COMPEL PRODUCTION OF A COMPETENT PERSON MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE BY DEFENDANT FCA US LLC AND REQUEST FOR SANCTIONS IN THE AMOUNT OF $2
5/10/2019: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (HEARING ON MOTION TO COMPEL MOTION TO COMPEL A COMPETENT PERS...)
1/23/2018: ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING -
12/29/2017: PROOF OF SERVICE BY MAIL
12/14/2017: COMPLAINT 1. VIOLATION OF SONG-BEVERLY ACT - BREACH OF EXPRESS WARRANTY; ETC.
12/22/2017: Minute Order -
Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 31, Yolanda Orozco, Presiding; Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) - Not Held - Vacated by CourtRead MoreRead Less
DocketRequest for Dismissal; Filed by Shahriar Yazdanniaz (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 31, Yolanda Orozco, Presiding; Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) - Not Held - Advanced and Continued - by CourtRead MoreRead Less
DocketNotice Re: Continuance of Hearing and Order; Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 31, Yolanda Orozco, Presiding; Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) - Held - ContinuedRead MoreRead Less
DocketMinute Order ( (Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement))); Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketNotice ( OF ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE DISMISSAL); Filed by Shahriar Yazdanniaz (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
DocketNotice of Ruling; Filed by Shahriar Yazdanniaz (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 31, Yolanda Orozco, Presiding; Hearing on Motion for Attorney Fees - Held - Motion GrantedRead MoreRead Less
Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 31, Yolanda Orozco, Presiding; Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) - Held - ContinuedRead MoreRead Less
DocketMinute order entered: 2017-12-22 00:00:00; Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketMinute OrderRead MoreRead Less
DocketProof-Service/Summons; Filed by Shahriar Yazdanniaz (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
DocketPROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONSRead MoreRead Less
DocketChallenge To Judicial Officer - Peremptory (170.6); Filed by Shahriar Yazdanniaz (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
DocketAFFIDAVIT OF PREJUDICE PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE TO JUDICIAL OFFICER (CODE CLV. PROC., 170.6)Read MoreRead Less
DocketComplaint; Filed by Shahriar Yazdanniaz (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
DocketSUMMONSRead MoreRead Less
DocketCOMPLAINT 1. VIOLATION OF SONG-BEVERLY ACT - BREACH OF EXPRESS WARRANTY; ETC.Read MoreRead Less
DocketDEMAND FOR JURY TRIALRead MoreRead Less
Case Number: BC686906 Hearing Date: January 16, 2020 Dept: 31
MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES IS GRANTED, IN PART
On December 14, 2017, Plaintiff Shahriar Yazdanniaz filed the instant suit against Defendants FCA US LLC, Orange Coast Auto Group, LLC, and Does 1 through 10. On January 18, 2019, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). The FAC asserts causes of action for:
Breach of Express Warranty – Violation of Song-Beverly Act;
Breach of Implied Warranty – Violation of Song-Beverly Act;
Violation of the Song-Beverly Act Section 1793.2; and
Fraudulent Inducement – Concealment.
On August 8, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Settlement of Entire Case and has filed this motion for fees.
Attorneys’ fees are allowed as costs when authorized by contract, statute, or law. (Code Civ. Proc, § 1033.5, subd. (a)(10)(B).)
In a lemon law action, costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees, may be recovered by a prevailing buyer under the Song-Beverly Act. (See Civ. Code, § 1794(d).) Section 1794 provides:
If the buyer prevails in an action under this section, the buyer shall be allowed by the court to recover as part of the judgment 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.
(Civ. Code, § 1794 [emphasis added].) Thus, the statute includes a “reasonable attorney’s fees” standard.
The attorney bears the burden of proof as to “reasonableness” of any fee claim. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1033.5(c)(5).) This burden requires competent evidence as to the nature and value of the services rendered. (Martino v. Denevi (1986) 182 Cal.App.3d 553, 559.) “Testimony of an attorney as to the number of hours worked on a particular case is sufficient evidence to support an award of attorney fees, even in the absence of detailed time records.” (Id.)
A plaintiff’s verified billing invoices are prima facie evidence that the costs, expenses, and services listed were necessarily incurred. (See Hadley v. Krepel (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 677, 682.) “In challenging attorney fees as excessive because too many hours of work are claimed, it is the burden of the challenging party to point to the specific items challenged, with a sufficient argument and citations to the evidence. General arguments that fees claimed are excessive, duplicative, or unrelated to not suffice.” (Lunada Biomedical v. Nunez (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 459, 488, quoting Premier Med. Mgmt. Sys., Inc. v. California Ins. Guarantee Ass’n (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 550, 564.)
Defendants submit a number of objections to the Declarations of Steve Mikhov and Edward O. Lear.
Plaintiff also submits a number of objections to the Declaration of Samantha J. Hughes.
The objections are immaterial to the Court’s disposition. The Court therefore declines to rule upon them.
Plaintiff seeks attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $74,454.75 consisting of $45,801.25 in attorneys’ fees, $5,752.87 in costs, and a lodestar multiplier of 0.5 for an additional $22,900.63.
“The reasonable hourly rate is that prevailing in the community for similar work.” (PLCM Group v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1095.) “The experienced trial judge is the best judge of the value of professional services rendered in [her] court.” (Ibid.)
Plaintiff seeks to recover attorneys’ fees for 14 different attorneys who worked on the case. Their hourly rates are as follows:
Steve Mikhov: $550/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 19)
Amy Morse: $350/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 20)
Kristina Stephenson-Cheang: $375/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 21)
Daniel Kalinowski: $250/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 22)
George Aguilar: $275/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 23)
Kirk Donnelley: $400/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 24)
Maite Colon: $275/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 25)
Matthew Evans: $400/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 26)
Sundeep Samra: $225/hour (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 27)
Edward Lear: $595/hour (Lear Decl. ¶ 4)
Rizza Gonzales: $400/hour (Lear Decl. ¶ 6)
Mike Bergin: $150/hour (Lear Decl. ¶ 7)
Gina Kripotos: $250/hour (Lear Decl. ¶ 8)
Saba Zafar: $400/hour (Lear Decl. ¶ 9)
For each of the attorneys, attorneys Steve Mikhov and Edward Lear attest to their legal experience and the reasonableness of their rates. (Mikhov Decl. ¶ 16-27; Lear Decl. ¶ 2-9.)
In opposition, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s counsel’s hourly rates are excessive. Defendants assert that Plaintiff’s attorneys padded their bills by overstaffing what was otherwise a routine lemon law case with fourteen attorneys from three law firms. Citing to Morris v. Hyundai Motors America ((2019) Cal.App.5th 24), Defendants contend that the Court should reduce Plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees by limiting the billing to one partner and two associates from the Knight Law Group. Defendants argue that Knight Law Group should be limited to the $23,035.00 in billing by partner Amy Morse and associates Kristina Stephenson-Cheang and George Aguilar, with Ms. Cheang’s rate reduced to $300 per hour. Defendants assert that Century Law Group’s fees should be limited to those generated by partner Edward O. Lear and associate Rizza Gonzales with Mr. Lear’s rate reduced to $400 per hour and Ms. Gonzales’ rate reduced to $300 per hour for total billing of $2,780.00.
In reply, Plaintiff argues that Defendants have not provided any actual evidence suggesting that the requested rates are improper. Plaintiff asserts that the Morris case cited by Defendants involves substantially different facts and circumstances than those here.
The Court finds that the hourly rates requested by Plaintiffs are reasonable and commensurate with rates charged by attorneys with comparable skill and expertise. The rates suggested by Defendant are not supported by any evidence and thus the Court declines to adjust the rates as requested.
Reasonable Hours Incurred
“A trial 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.” (Christian Research Institute v. Alnor (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1315, 1321.) “The reasonableness of attorney fees is within the discretion of the trial court, to be determined from a consideration of such factors as the nature of the litigation, the complexity of the issues, the experience and expertise of counsel and the amount of time involved. The court may also consider whether the amount requested is based upon unnecessary or duplicative work.” (Wilkerson v. Sullivan (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 443, 448.)
While not per se objectionable, block billing can exacerbate the vagueness of an attorney fee request and support a court’s finding that time entries were inflated and non-compensable. (Christian Research Institute v. Alnor (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1315, 1325-1326.)
Plaintiff’s counsel provides detailed billing records for this case. (Mihkov Decl., Exh. A; Lear Decl., Exh. A.) Plaintiff seeks attorneys’ fees in the amount of $45,801.25. Plaintiff argues that this case required a range of specialized knowledge, including: (1) an understanding of the full scope of consumer protection laws, which are highly nuanced; (2) knowledge of the intricacies of automobiles and the lexicon associated with them, as well as knowledge concerning how to investigate issues with automobiles; and (3) knowledge of auto manufacturers’ and dealers’ policies and protocols for repairing vehicles and complying with their legal obligations. (Mihkov Decl., ¶ 60.) Plaintiff contends that counsel acquired knowledge and insight about these over the course of many years of litigation, and this experience typically results in significantly higher judgments or settlements for their clients, like Plaintiff here.
Plaintiff argues that Defendants should have acknowledged the defects in Plaintiffs’ vehicle and resolved the matter before this case was ever filed. Plaintiff asserts that instead, Defendants engaged in expensive litigation, including denying all liability, engaging in extensive discovery, and forcing Plaintiff’s counsel to expend numerous hours preparing for trial. Plaintiff contends that with little effort, Defendants could have resolved this matter much earlier and saved tens of thousands in attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses by doing so. Plaintiff argues that Defendants ultimately capitulated, but not before causing substantial fees to be incurred. Plaintiff asserts that when Defendants cause the entirety of fees to be incurred, they have no legitimate basis for complaining about the amount of attorneys’ fees reasonably and actually incurred, especially when Defendants had the opportunity to resolve the matter before a lawsuit was even filed.
In opposition, Defendants argue that numerous time entries submitted by Plaintiff’s counsel contain entries that lump together several tasks. Defendants assert that the amount of hours block billed amount to 39.45 hours and $15,511.25 in fees. Defendants contend that because it is not clear from the entries provided how much time counsel spent on necessary tasks related to the prosecution of Plaintiff’s Song-Beverly causes of action, as opposed to administrative tasks, other non-legal tasks, and objectionable tasks, the Court should invoke its discretion and reduce Plaintiff’s counsel’s claimed hours and fees significantly.
Defendants additionally argue that the amount of work attributed in Plaintiff’s motion to many tasks appears to reflect what counsel believes the “value” of that task should be, not the actual time spent. Defendants assert that the hours that were value billed amount to 22.3 hours and $8,120.00 in fees.
Defendants contend that Plaintiff is also not entitled to attorneys’ fees under Code Section 1794(d) for non-Song-Beverly causes of action or unnecessary litigation. For example, Plaintiff seeks attorneys’ fee incurred in connection with amending the complaint to allege a cause of action for fraud and for the drafting of fifteen (15) motions in limine that Plaintiff failed to file or serve. Defendants assert that the fees incurred as a result of amending the complaint to allege a fraud cause of action are not recoverable as a fraud cause of action is separate and apart from Plaintiff’s breach of warranty claims and therefore not recoverable under the plain language of Civil Code section 1794(d). As to the motions in limine, Defendants contend that because Plaintiff never filed any motions in limine, they could not have been necessary to the prosecution of Plaintiff’s Song-Beverly claims.
In reply, Plaintiff argues that Defendants fail to rebut that reasonableness presumption afforded by Plaintiff’s fee bill. Plaintiff asserts that rather than carry its burden and offer evidence disputing Plaintiff’s showing, Defendants incorrectly try to place the burden on Plaintiff. As to Defendants’ arguments regarding block-billing, Plaintiff contends that the items Defendants identify as block billing are not examples of block billing, but instead describe the work performed by the attorney. As to Defendants’ argument regarding value billing, Plaintiff argues that Defendants contention is not supported. Finally, as to Defendants’ arguments regarding work related to non-Song-Beverly causes of action, Plaintiff asserts that the filing and defense of the FAC cannot be extricated from the prosecution of the Song-Beverly Act claims. Plaintiff contends that moreover, the 998 accepted by Defendant sets forth “Defendants shall pay attorney fees, costs, and expenses actually and reasonably incurred in the commencement and prosecution of this action.” (Mikhov Decl., Exh. D, E.) Plaintiff argues that they cannot now seek to undo the bargain it entered into by now arguing that the attorneys’ fees related to “prosecution of this action” somehow does not include prosecution of the fraud cause of action. Finally, as to the motions in limine, Plaintiff asserts that the motions were prepared in December 2018 when trial was scheduled to commence on March 11, 2019, with an FSC on March 1, 2019. Plaintiff contends that it is not inappropriate for counsel to prepare motions in limine in advance of the trial date.
The Court finds that the amount of fees request is unreasonable. First, as to the fee motion, the Court is not persuaded that Plaintiff will incur an additional 5 hours reviewing the opposition, preparing a reply, and preparing for and attending the hearing on the motion. Accordingly, a total of $800 representing 2 hours billed has been deducted from the total amount of fees requested.
The Court additionally finds that Plaintiff’s counsel billed for time wherein one attorney was responsible for attending a hearing or deposition and another attorney was responsible for reviewing the transcript and drafting a summary. The Court finds such time is duplicative and therefore unreasonable. Accordingly, a total of $937.50 representing 2.5 hours billed has been deducted from the total amount of fees requested.
As to Defendants arguments regarding block-billing, value billing, and entries related to Plaintiff’s fraud cause of action and motions in limine, the Court finds that such time was reasonably incurred, billed, and recorded and was contemplated by the parties’ settlement agreement. Accordingly, Plaintiff may thus recover for such time. It appears to the Court that Plaintiff’s counsel delegated tasks to attorneys with lower rates to ensure Plaintiff was appropriately billed.
Having analyzed the motions and pleadings filed, and having reviewed the billing statements provided, the Court determines that a reasonable lodestar in this case, to limit any duplicative and excessive fees, is $44,063.75.
While the lodestar reflects the basic fee for comparable legal services in the community, it may be adjusted based on various factors, including “(1) the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill displayed in presenting them; (2) the extent to which the nature of the litigation precluded other employment by the attorneys; (3) the contingent nature of the fee award” and (4) the success achieved. (Serrano v. Priest (1977) 20 Cal.3d 25, 49.)
Nonetheless, the court must not consider extraordinary skill and the other Serrano factors to the extent these are already included with the lodestar. (Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal. 4th 1122, 1138-1139.) “[A] trial court should award a multiplier for exceptional representation only when the quality of representation far exceeds the quality of representation that would have been provided by an attorney of comparable skill and experience billing at the hourly rate used in the lodestar calculation. Otherwise, the fee award will result in unfair double counting and be unreasonable.” (Id. at 1139.)
Plaintiff seeks a lodestar multiplier of 0.5 in the additional amount of $22,900.63. Plaintiff argues that throughout the litigation, there always existed the possibility that Plaintiff would not prevail. Plaintiff asserts that the risk was further compounded by the fact that Plaintiff’s attorneys advanced all litigation costs and expenses without reimbursement. Plaintiff contends that if he did not prevail, his attorneys would have suffered a substantial loss of uncompensated attorney hours and thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. Plaintiff argues that he requests a 0.2 enhancement based on that risk.
Plaintiff further argues that Defendants dragged this case out for nearly two years before agreeing to a reasonable settlement offer proposed by Plaintiff. Plaintiff asserts that his attorneys are not paid at all if they lose, and need to absorb significant delay in being paid if Plaintiff does win. On account of the substantial delay in payment, Plaintiff requests a 0.3 enhancement.
In opposition, Defendants argue that each of the factors Plaintiff cites commands that the attorneys’ fees claimed should be adjusted downward. Defendants assert that this was a routine lemon law case that did not present novel issues or preclude Plaintiff’s counsel from handling any other cases while they litigated this case. Defendants contend that moreover, this case did not proceed to trial. Defendants argue that such circumstances do not amount to a rare and exceptional case justifying a multiplier.
The Court finds that under the circumstances of this case, a lodestar multiplier is not appropriate. Nothing before the Court indicates that the case presented novel issues or that the quality of representation far exceeded the quality of representation that would have been provided by attorneys of comparable skill and experience billing at the same rates. While Plaintiff argues that counsel accepted the case only on a contingency basis, the Court finds that such considerations and risks are already included within the lodestar amount.
Based on the foregoing, the Court declines to award a lodestar multiplier.
Allowable costs “shall be reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation rather than merely convenient or beneficial to its preparation.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 1033.5, subd. (c)(2).) Any items not specifically mentioned by statute “may be allowed or denied in the court's discretion.” (Id., subd. (c)(4).)
'“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 [citations], and the burden of showing that an item is not properly chargeable or is unreasonable is upon the [objecting party].' [Citation.]” (Nelson v. Anderson (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 111, 131.) The Court therefore first determines if the statute expressly allows for the item, and whether it appears proper on its face. If so, “the burden is on the objecting party to show them to be unnecessary or unreasonable.” (Id.)
The Beverly-Song Act allows a successful plaintiff to recover both “costs” and “expenses.” (See Civ. Code, § 1794, subd. (d).) Courts have held that “it is clear the Legislature intended the word ‘expenses' to cover items not included in the detailed statutory definition of ‘costs.”’ (Jensen v. BMW of North America, Inc. (“Jensen”) (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 112, 137.) The court in Jensen held that “[t]he legislative history indicates the Legislature exercised its power to permit the recovery of expert witness fees by prevailing buyers under the Act … ,” noting that the legislature included “expenses” in the lemon law act because '“[t]he addition of awards of “costs and expenses” by the court to the consumer to cover such out-of-pocket expenses as filing fees, expert witness fees, marshall’s fees, etc., should open the litigation process to everyone.’ [Citation.]”
Plaintiff seeks costs in the amount of $5,752.87. Defendants do not challenge Plaintiff’s costs.
The Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to costs sought under Civil Code section 1794. The Court thus awards Plaintiff costs in the amount of $5,752.87.
Plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees is GRANTED in part. The Court awards Plaintiff attorneys’ fees in the amount of $44,063.75 and costs in the amount of $5,752.87, for a total of $49,816.62 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
Moving party to give notice.