This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 07/12/2019 at 01:34:16 (UTC).

STEPHEN ALEXANDER VS FCA US LLC ET AL

Case Summary

On 03/22/2018 a Contract - Other Contract case was filed by STEPHEN ALEXANDER against FCA US LLC in the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****9204

  • Filing Date:

    03/22/2018

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Contract - Other Contract

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Stanley Mosk Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

RANDOLPH M. HAMMOCK

 

Party Details

Petitioner and Plaintiff

ALEXANDER STEPHEN

Respondents and Defendants

FCA US LLC

DOES 1-50

SURF AUTO GROUP INC.

SURF CITY AUTO GROUP INC.

 

Court Documents

CASE MANAGEMENT ORDER

6/11/2018: CASE MANAGEMENT ORDER

Stipulation - No Order

4/2/2019: Stipulation - No Order

Notice of Appearance

4/8/2019: Notice of Appearance

Minute Order

6/11/2018: Minute Order

CIVIL DEPOSIT

5/30/2018: CIVIL DEPOSIT

CIVIL DEPOSIT

5/30/2018: CIVIL DEPOSIT

CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

5/30/2018: CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

ANSWER OF DEFENDANT SURF CITY AUTO GROUP, INC. TO PLAINTIFF?S UNVERIFIED COMPLAINT

5/30/2018: ANSWER OF DEFENDANT SURF CITY AUTO GROUP, INC. TO PLAINTIFF?S UNVERIFIED COMPLAINT

PLAINTIFF'S NOTICE OF POSTING JURY FEES

5/30/2018: PLAINTIFF'S NOTICE OF POSTING JURY FEES

CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

5/30/2018: CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

4/18/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

4/17/2018: NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

4/17/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

SUMMONS

3/22/2018: SUMMONS

COMPLAINT RE VIOLATION OF THE SONG-BEVERLY CONSUMER WARRANTY ACT ["ACT"] {CIVIL CODE 1790 ET SEQ]: 1. BREACH OF EXPRESS WARRANTY OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE ACT; ETC

3/22/2018: COMPLAINT RE VIOLATION OF THE SONG-BEVERLY CONSUMER WARRANTY ACT ["ACT"] {CIVIL CODE 1790 ET SEQ]: 1. BREACH OF EXPRESS WARRANTY OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE ACT; ETC

3 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 06/17/2019
  • at 09:30 AM in Department 47, Randolph M. Hammock, Presiding; Jury Trial - Not Held - Continued - Stipulation

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  • 06/11/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department 47, Randolph M. Hammock, Presiding; Final Status Conference - Not Held - Continued - Stipulation

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  • 05/10/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department 47, Randolph M. Hammock, Presiding; Post-Mediation Status Conference - Not Held - Continued - Stipulation

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  • 04/08/2019
  • Notice of Appearance; Filed by FCA US, LLC (Defendant); Surf City Auto Group, Inc. (Defendant)

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  • 04/02/2019
  • Stipulation - No Order (Stipulation to Continue Trial and Final Status Conference); Filed by Stephen Alexander (Plaintiff)

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  • 06/11/2018
  • at 08:30 AM in Department 47; Case Management Conference - Held

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  • 06/11/2018
  • Minute Order

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  • 06/11/2018
  • CASE MANAGEMENT ORDER

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  • 06/11/2018
  • Minute order entered: 2018-06-11 00:00:00; Filed by Clerk

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  • 06/11/2018
  • Case Management Order; Filed by Court

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10 More Docket Entries
  • 04/18/2018
  • PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

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  • 04/18/2018
  • Proof-Service/Summons; Filed by Stephen Alexander (Plaintiff)

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  • 04/17/2018
  • Proof-Service/Summons; Filed by Stephen Alexander (Plaintiff)

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  • 04/17/2018
  • Notice of Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

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  • 04/17/2018
  • PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

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  • 04/17/2018
  • NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

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  • 03/22/2018
  • Complaint; Filed by Stephen Alexander (Plaintiff)

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  • 03/22/2018
  • COMPLAINT RE VIOLATION OF THE SONG-BEVERLY CONSUMER WARRANTY ACT ["ACT"] {CIVIL CODE 1790 ET SEQ]: 1. BREACH OF EXPRESS WARRANTY OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE ACT; ETC

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  • 03/22/2018
  • SUMMONS

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  • 05/30/2017
  • Receipt; Filed by Stephen Alexander (Plaintiff)

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: BC699204    Hearing Date: March 10, 2020    Dept: 47

Stephen Alexander v. FCA US, LLC, et al.

 

MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES AND COSTS

MOVING PARTY: Plaintiff Stephen Alexander

RESPONDING PARTY(S): Defendants FCA US LLC and Surf City Auto Group, Inc.

STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS AND/OR PROCEEDINGS:

This was a Song-Beverly Act case, in which Plaintiff alleged that she purchased a new 2015 Ford Edge that was defective.

The parties apparently settled this action sometime “between September 29, 2019 and December 16, 2019,” and Plaintiff moves for an award of attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.

TENTATIVE RULING:

Plaintiff Stephen Alexander’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs is GRANTED in the amount of $30,000 in attorney fees and $2,158.37 in costs and expenses.

DISCUSSION:

Plaintiff’s Motion For Attorney’s Fees and Costs

Late-Served Opposition

Plaintiff is correct that Defendants’ service of their opposition by mail violates CCP § 1005(b). However, given that Plaintiff was able to respond to the opposition, the Court will exercise its discretion to consider it.

Attorney’s Fees

Plaintiff moves for an award of attorney’s fees, costs and expenses in the total amount of $93,878.37, consisting of $46,860 in attorney’s fees and $2,158.37 in recoverable costs, plus a 1.0 multiplier enhancement on attorney’s fees in the amount of $46,860.

The Court notes at the outset that Plaintiff’s counsel should devote more time to explaining the facts of this case and less to the endless recitation of the policy reasons why it deserves fees. One of the most central facts in this case – that it apparently settled – is never clearly stated in Plaintiff’s papers. Plaintiff states the following in the motion:

Eventually settlement talks ensued. ALEXANDER reiterated his demand for a buyback as he had prior to filing his lawsuit and provided more information as it concerned the attorney fee demand. (NT Dec. ¶ 51, 52) FCA agreed to repurchase the subject vehicle for $63,718, but took issue with the attorney’s fees. Defense counsel expressed hope that the offer would be accepted which included doing a fee motion. (NT Dec. 53) ALEXANDER asked FCA to reconsider its position on litigating attorney’s fees and costs as by experience they can increase the attorney’s fee number substantially; and suggested it would be wise to engage in earnest negotiations of the fees and costs to avoid wasting time. (NT Dec¶ 54) Thereafter FCA offered less than half of the fees and costs incurred at the time resulting in no alternative but to go forward with this motion. (NT Dec ¶ 55)

(Motion, at p. 6.) The Declaration of Attorney Norman F. Taylor – including the cited paragraphs – only further obscure what should be a clearly stated fact. The Taylor Declaration states that counsel for FCA “made an offer to repurchase the vehicle for $63,718” on or about June 26, 2019 “but would not make an offer on fees and costs.” (Taylor Decl. ¶ 53.) Was that offer accepted? We aren’t told. We are only told that, “[b]etween September 29, 2019 and December 26, 2019, the terms of the Release were negotiated and ultimately signatures obtained from both sides.” (Taylor Decl. ¶ 56.) What “Release”? What are its terms? We aren’t told. Plaintiff attaches an email to his reply that indicates that he accepted the offer to repurchase, but again, no “release” is mentioned, and no such document was included with the moving papers.

Based on this discussion, it is not even clear that the parties reached a definitive settlement agreement under which FCA agreed to repurchase the vehicle for $63,718. Did FCA agree to this and also agree that attorney’s fees would be decided by a noticed motion? Did the parties reach any agreement at all? Plaintiff also states that “[a]t this writing, FCA hasn’t even taken back the subject vehicle pursuant to the Release.” (Motion, at p. 6.) So was there even an agreement to do so? The Court will assume that FCA did, in fact, agree to repurchase the vehicle for $63,718. Otherwise, FCA presumably would have objected to this motion as premature or would have objected to the description of the parties’ agreement to the repurchase as inaccurate. FCA also concedes in its opposition that Plaintiff is entitled to “reasonable” attorney’s fees, and therefore FCA presumably had agreed that Plaintiff could seek those fees by way of a noticed motion. But Plaintiff’s counsel should heed the advice to focus on the essential facts of the client’s motion and less on their overall business. Counsel that engages in lemon law litigation as a specialty should know that there are certain essential facts the Court needs to know to decide these motions. There is no reason for this essential information to be as muddled as it is here, except that counsel’s focus is elsewhere.

Plaintiff brought this action under the Song-Beverly Act, Civil Code § 1790, et seq. Plaintiff seeks fees and costs under § 1794(d), which 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.

Here, assuming that FCA did agree to repurchase the vehicle for $63,718, Plaintiff is the prevailing party under the Song-Beverly Act.

The determination of reasonable amount of attorney’s fees is within the sound discretion of trial courts. (PLCM Group v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1095; Akins v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 1127, 1134.) “A trial court may not rubber stamp a request for attorney fees, but must determine the number of hours reasonably expended.” (Morris v. Hyundai Motor America (2019) 41 Cal.App.5th 24, 39 (citation omitted).) “The determination of what constitutes a reasonable fee generally ‘begins with the ‘lodestar,’ i.e., the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate . . . .’” (Graciano v. Robinson Ford Sales, Inc. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 140, 154.) “[T]he lodestar is the basic fee for comparable legal services in the community; it may be adjusted by the court based on factors including, as relevant herein, (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….” (Ibid.) In setting the hourly rate for a fee award, courts are entitled to consider the “fees customarily charged by that attorney and others in the community for similar work.” (Bihun v. AT&T Info. Sys., Inc. (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 976, 997 [affirming rate of $450 per hour], overruled on other grounds by Lakin v. Watkins Associated Indus. (1993) 6 Cal.4th 644, 664.) The burden is on the party seeking attorney’s fees to prove the reasonableness of the fees. (Center for Biological Diversity v. County of San Bernardino (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 603, 615.)

The Court has broad discretion in determining the amount of a reasonable attorney’s fee award, which will not be overturned absent a “manifest abuse of discretion, a prejudicial error of law, or necessary findings not supported by substantial evidence.” (Bernardi v. County of Monterey (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1379, 1393-1394.) The Court need not explain its calculation of the amount of attorney’s fees awarded in detail; identifying the factors considered in arriving at the amount will suffice. (Ventura v. ABM Indus. Inc. (2012) 212 Cal.App.4th 258, 274-275.)

Here, the Court finds that counsel’s hourly rates of $300 and $550 (Taylor Decl. ¶ 15 & Exh. 1) are reasonable, with the accompanying observation that attorneys who bill at these hourly rates should not need to research routine issues of law and should use boilerplate when it will serve the client’s purposes. The Court takes note of the similarities between this case and other litigation filed and prosecuted by Plaintiff’s counsel. At these hourly billing rates, counsel is expected to be experienced in the area of lemon law and thus to be able to handle these cases efficiently, given their recurring factual and legal issues. (Cf. Morris, supra, 41 Cal.App.5th at 39 [“Plainly, it is appropriate for a trial court to reduce a fee award based on its reasonable determination that a routine, non-complex case was overstaffed to a degree that significant inefficiencies and inflated fees resulted.”].)

Plaintiff attached the billing records for Norman Taylor & Associates as Exhibit 1 to the Taylor Declaration, reflecting a lodestar amount of $45,860. The Court notes that the issues in this case were applicable to other consumers’ vehicles, thereby triggering economies of scale in terms of Plaintiff’s counsel’s efficiency in litigating this type of lemon law case. The Court acknowledges that Plaintiff’s counsel prepared requests for production, requests for admission, special interrogatories, and form interrogatories; however, this discovery should not have required anything more than slight factual modification to existing boilerplate. Likewise, Plaintiff’s counsel responded to Defendant FCA’s discovery requests. Ultimately, however, there was no law and motion in this case. The Court has also considered Defendants’ opposition, which it found to be quite persuasive, although the Court disagrees with Defendants that Attorney Hayk Proshyan’s time must be stricken because he did not file his own declaration; the billing records attached as Exhibit 1 show Attorney Proshyan’s billed time and allow the Court to calculate his rate (though the Court agrees that it would have been helpful for Plaintiff’s counsel to do this work for it). Finally, the Court notes that the claimed 17.5 hours to prepare and argue this motion is excessive, bordering on the absurd. Not to mention that, having “warned defense . . . that litigating attorney’s fees was not a wise decision because the attorney’s fees would increase substantially” (Taylor Reply Decl. ¶ 2), Plaintiff’s counsel may have an incentive to follow through on that warning with a higher-than-warranted fee amount attributable to the fee motion.

Utilizing a lodestar approach, and in view of the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that the total and reasonable amount of attorney’s fees incurred in this case for the work performed on behalf of Plaintiff is $30,000. The Court declines to award any lodestar multiplier, as the Court does not view this particular case as warranting the application of a multiplier to the lodestar amount.

Costs

The Act provides for the recovery by a prevailing buyer of “the aggregate amount of costs and expenses . . . reasonably incurred by the buyer.”

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(d). In addition, the prevailing plaintiff may recover expenses that are not costs recoverable under CCP § 1033.5. (Jensen v. BMW of North Am., Inc. (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 112, 137-138.)

In that Defendants did not challenge Plaintiff’s costs, the Court will award Plaintiff his requested costs in the amount of $2,158.37. The Court notes, however, that attaching the actual memorandum of costs to the motion would be far more helpful than attaching a matrix of attorney’s fees in District of Columbia courts.

Conclusion

The motion for attorney’s fees and costs is GRANTED in the amount of $30,000 in attorney’s fees and $2,158.37 in costs.

Moving party to give notice, unless waived.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: March 10, 2020 ___________________________________

Randolph M. Hammock

Judge of the Superior Court

Any party may submit on the tentative ruling by contacting the courtroom via email atSmcdept47@lacourt.org