Judge: Curtis A. Kin, Case: 19STCV40836, Date: 2023-02-21 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 19STCV40836    Hearing Date: February 21, 2023    Dept: 72



Date:               2/21/23 (8:30 AM)

Case:               Joyful Will Int’l Ltd., et al. v. Romex Textiles, Inc., et al. (19STCV40836)




Plaintiffs/Cross-Defendants Joyful Will International Limited and Brightex International Inc.’s Motion for Attorney Fees is GRANTED.


Defendant Romex Textiles, Inc.’s evidentiary objections are OVERRULED.


Plaintiffs/Cross-Defendants Joyful Will International Limited and Brightex International Inc. move for an award of $815,717.10 in attorney fees and $122,920.01 in costs.


With respect to the request to award costs, plaintiffs’ ability to recover costs, as opposed to fees, is not based on contract, but under CCP § 1032(b). (See CCP § 1032(b) [“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”].) The amount of costs that plaintiffs may recover was addressed in the motion to tax costs heard on January 19, 2023. For the reasons stated in the January 19, 2023 Minute Order, plaintiffs may recover costs in the amount of $55,395.32 ($122,910.01 costs claimed - $67,514.69 taxed).


With respect to the request to award fees, Civil Code § 1717(a) states: “In any action on a contract, where the contract specifically provides that attorney’s fees and costs, which are incurred to enforce that contract, shall be awarded either to one of the parties or to the prevailing party, then the party who is determined to be the party prevailing on the contract, whether he or she is the party specified in the contract or not, shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees in addition to other costs.” (Civ. Code § 1717(a).) On October 7, 2022, after a jury trial, judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs against defendant Romex Textiles, Inc. in the amount of $9 million. Accordingly, plaintiffs are the prevailing party in this action.


Plaintiffs sufficiently demonstrate that they are entitled to recover fees based on the attorney fee provision in the commercial invoices, which states: “The buyer shall pay reasonable costs and fees, including legal expenses incurred by the seller in collecting cargo amount on due.” (Renfro Decl. ¶ 3 & Ex. 2.) Defendant argues that the purchase order, from which orders for textiles are generated, states: “No contract is valid unless made upon this form and properly signed on the front hereof. This contract may not be varied or changed, nor any of its provisions waived except in writing, signed by an authorized representative of the Purchaser.” (Tabibi Decl. ¶ 2 & Ex. 1.) However, the purchase orders were only one of the documents making up the parties’ agreement for the purchase of textiles.


“A contract can, of course, be subsequently modified with the assent of the parties thereto [citation], provided the same elements essential to the validity of the original contract are present. [Citation.]” (Carlson, Collins, Gordon and Bold v. Banducci (1967) 257 Cal.App.2d 212, 223.) Here, after plaintiffs produced and shipped the textiles pursuant to the terms of the purchase order and pro forma invoice, plaintiffs issued the commercial invoice for the order. (Renfro Decl. ¶ 2.)


Defendant demonstrated acceptance of the terms in the commercial invoices, including the attorney fee provision, by paying certain of the invoices. As an example, the purchase order for RMD29812 was $48,600.00. (Sandoval Decl. ¶ 6 & Ex. E at 6-1.) The corresponding commercial invoice that plaintiffs issued for RMD29812 was $26,498.34, which was later adjusted to $26,498.00. (Id. at 6-2, 6-7.) Defendant wired $26,498.00 in payment of the amount reflected in the commercial invoice. (Id. at 6-5, 6-6; see also Sandoval Decl. ¶ 3 & Ex. B at Ex. 2 to Ex. 1 [defendant’s payment report for RMD29812.1 reflecting wire of $26,498.00 on 12/26/18]; Sandoval Decl. ¶ 7 & Ex. F at 113:26-114:7, 115:10-15 [defendant’s president testified during trial that he promised and complied with verbal agreement to wire payment of 2018 invoices].) In exchange for payment of the invoiced amount, defendant received the textiles reflected on the invoice. Accordingly, because defendant accepted the textiles set forth in the commercial invoices, defendant also agreed to the terms of the commercial invoices, including payment and the attorney’s fee provision.


The Court has reviewed counsel for plaintiffs’ experience and finds that the hourly rates claimed by counsel for plaintiffs is reasonable. (Renfro Decl. ¶¶ 16-22.)


Defendant contends that the billing entries contain block billing. However, “block billing is not objectionable “per se[.]” (Jaramillo v. County of Orange (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 811, 830.) While the Court has discretion to reduce plaintiffs’ fee request, such a reduction is not warranted here. The Court has reviewed the billing entries from counsel for plaintiffs and finds that the number of hours worked is reasonable. The billing entries evidence that counsel reasonably divided the work among themselves, such as with the motions in limine, and billed accordingly.


“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.” (Premier Medical Management. Systems, Inc. v. California Insurance Guarantee Association (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 550, 564.) While defendant provides a list of billing entries that are purportedly block billed, defendant presents a generalized argument without explaining why the total number of hours claimed in any given billing entry is unreasonable, even if the billing entry contains multiple activities. (Tabibi Decl. ¶ 3 & Ex. 2 [purported improper block billing].)


For example, on August 29, 2022, plaintiffs billed 7.8 hours for the following activities: “PREPARE FOR ARGUMENTS ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE AT PRETRIAL CONFERENCE; REVIEW REPLY BRIEFS FROM ROMEX REGARDING MOTIONS IN LIMINE; STRATEGY MEETING REGARDING TRIAL; PREPARE OBJECTIONS TO ROMEX'S DOCUMENT REQUESTS FOR TRIAL; PREPARE WITNESS OUTLINES.” (Renfro Decl. ¶ 18 & Ex. 8.) 7.8 hours for all these activities combined is reasonable.


Defendant also contends that billing more than 8 hours a day for consecutive days is unreasonable. However, most of the days for which counsel billed 10 hours or more were related to the trial, where counsel is required to perform trial-related work in addition to being present in Court for 6-8 hours per day for trial.


The motion is GRANTED. Using the appropriate lodestar approach, and based on the foregoing findings and in view of the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that the total and reasonable amount of attorney fees and costs incurred for the work performed in connection with prevailing at trial is $871,112.42 ($815,717.10 fees + $55,395.32 costs). Such fees are awarded to plaintiffs Joyful Will International Limited and Brightex International Inc. against defendant Romex Textiles, Inc.