Judge: Barbara M. Scheper, Case: 19STCV19511, Date: 2022-08-10 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 19STCV19511    Hearing Date: August 10, 2022    Dept: 30

Dept. 30

Calendar No.

Moch vs. Agam Properties, Inc., et. al., Case No. 19STCV19511


Tentative Ruling re:  Defendants’ Motion for Attorney’s Fees


Defendants Agam Properties, Inc, Pacifica First National, Inc., and Giora Agam (collectively, Defendants) move for an award of attorney’s fees against Plaintiff David Moch (Plaintiff). Fees are awarded in the amount of $87,925.50.


“Except as otherwise expressly provided by statute, a prevailing party is entitled as a matter of right to recover costs in any action or proceeding.” (Code Civ. Proc. § 1032, subd. (b).) “Prevailing party” includes the party with a net monetary recovery. (Code Civ. Proc. § 1032, subd. (a)(4).) “[A]s a general rule, attorney fees are not recoverable as costs unless they are authorized by statute or agreement.” (People ex rel. Dept. of Corporations v. Speedee Oil Change Systems, Inc. (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 424, 429.) “

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.” (Ibid.)  Requested rates are reasonable if they are “within the range of reasonable rates charged by and judicially awarded comparable attorneys for comparable work.” (Children’s Hospital & Medical Center v. Bonta (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 740, 783.)

A party’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 do not suffice.” (Lunada Biomedical v. Nunez (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 459, 488 [quoting Premier Med. Mgmt. Sys., Inc. v. California Ins. Guarantee Assn. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 550, 564].)


The Court entered judgment in favor of Defendants on May 15, 2022, and found Defendants entitled to recovery of cost and attorney’s fees as the prevailing party pursuant to the parties’ lease agreement.

Defendants have incurred fees in the amount of $97,905.50 from counsel Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman. (Grossbart Decl. ¶ 15, Ex. C.) The requested fees are supported by billing invoices from defense counsel. (Ibid. [47].)


Requested rates are reasonable if they are “within the range of reasonable rates charged by and judicially awarded comparable attorneys for comparable work.” (Children’s Hospital & Medical Center v. Bonta (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 740, 783.)


Defense counsel states that the hourly rate for lawyers practicing in Southern California in this area of law ranges from $325 to $850 per hour. (Grossbart Decl. ¶ 17.) Defendants’ attorneys have billed at rates of $395 to $450 per hour. (Grossbart Decl. ¶ 16.) The Court finds that these rates are within the range of reasonable rates for comparable attorneys and comparable work.


Plaintiff argues that the fees requested are inflated and unreasonable given the lack of complexity and damages sought by Plaintiff. The Court disagrees. First, “[g]eneral arguments that fees claimed are excessive, duplicative, or unrelated do not suffice.” (Lunada Biomedical, 230 Cal.App.4th at 488.) Furthermore, as Defendants point out, the amount of fees requested are reasonably proportional to the amount at stake in this litigation given the value of the property at stake.


Specific Categories of Fees Challenged


Travel Time

            The attached invoices show that defense counsel has billed a number of hours for travel time. (Grossbart Decl., Ex. C.)


“The only travel expenses authorized by section 1033.5 are those to attend depositions. [Citation.] Routine expenses for local travel by attorneys or other firm employees are not reasonably necessary to the conduct of litigation.” (Ladas v. California State Auto. Assn. (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 761, 775–776.) Counsel may not recover travel expenses by recharacterizing disallowed costs as attorney’s fees: “In the absence of some specific provision of law otherwise, attorney fees and the expenses of litigation, whether termed costs, disbursements, outlays, or something else, are mutually exclusive, that is, attorney fees do not include such costs and costs do not include attorney fees.” (Ripley v. Pappadopoulos (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 1616, 1626; see Robert L. Cloud & Associates, Inc. v. Mikesell (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 1141, 1153.)

Accordingly, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the hours billed by defense counsel that include travel time should be reduced. (See Levy v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 807, 815 [finding that trial court did not abuse discretion in reducing excessive billing, where fees included “almost $6,000 [ ] billed for travel time”].) As Defendants point out, the entries that include travel also include time spent at the hearing. (Grossbart Decl., Ex. C [43].) There are seven such entries.  The Court will reduce the fees requested by $7,100 (12 hours at $450 per hour and 4 hours at $425 per hour).


            Plaintiff challenges 2.1 hours billed by counsel on February 18, 2021, for preparing subpoenas for Robert Bailey and Richard Solomon. (Grossbart Decl., Ex. C [40].) Defendants state that Bailey and Solomon were identified by Plaintiff in discovery, Bailey as an appraiser of the property and Solomon as Plaintiff’s loan broker. (Marootian Decl. ¶ 6.) Solomon was also specifically named in Plaintiff’s Complaint. (Comp. ¶ 19.) Given this, the Court finds that hours spent to conduct discovery regarding these individuals were necessarily incurred and reasonable.


Preparation of Trial Brief

            Plaintiff challenges 6.4 hours billed by Defendants on October 28-29, 2021, to prepare a trial brief. (Grossbart Decl., Ex. C [44].) The trial brief was not filed or served until the first day of trial.


            In light of the fact that the Court and opposing counsel were not given an opportunity to evaluate the brief before trial commenced, the Court finds that these fees were not reasonable or necessary.  Accordingly, the Court reduces the fees by $2,880.


Estimated Future Work

            Finally, Plaintiff challenges $7,650 in fees requested by Defendants for estimated future work. These fees are for 6 hours to prepare and appear for the Motion to Tax Costs, 5 hours to prepare a Reply for this motion, and 6 hours to prepare for and appear for the hearing on this motion.


            Defendants concede that the hours incurred for the hearing on the Motion to Tax Costs should not be granted. The Court also agrees with Plaintiff that the hours estimated to be incurred in connection with this motion are excessive. These fees are reduced to $1,800.


In sum, the Court reduces the fees requested for hours already billed by $11,780. The Court awards fees in the amount of $1,800 for future estimated work. The total fees awarded are $87,925.50.