Judge: Michael Shultz, Case: 22CMCV00217, Date: 2024-06-11 Tentative Ruling

INSTRUCTIONS: If the parties wish to submit on the tentative ruling and avoid a court appearance on the matter, the moving party must:

1. Contact the opposing party and all other parties who have appeared in the action and confirm that each will submit on the tentative ruling.

2. No later than 4:00 p.m. on the court day before the hearing, call the Courtroom (310-761-4302) advising that all parties will submit on the tentative ruling and waive hearing; and

3. Serve notice of the Court's ruling on all parties entitled to receive service.

If this procedure is followed, when the case is called the Court will enter its ruling on the motion in accordance with its tentative ruling. If any party declines to submit on the tentative ruling, then no telephone call is necessary, and all parties should appear at the hearing. If there is neither a telephone call nor an appearance, then the matter may either be taken off calendar or ruled on. 

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Case Number: 22CMCV00217    Hearing Date: June 11, 2024    Dept: A

22CMCV00217 Woonseong Yeo v. Kia America, Inc.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024, at 8:30 a.m.

 

[TENTATIVE] ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES (REDUCED)

 

I.        BACKGROUND      

       The complaint filed on July 13, 2022, alleges that Plaintiff bought a 2019 Kia Soul made by Defendant. The vehicle’s engine system was defective.  Defendant allegedly failed to comply with its obligations under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the “SBA”). Plaintiff filed notice of settlement on January 11, 2024.

II.      ARGUMENTS

       Plaintiff asks for an attorney fee award of $62,979 and an additional $5,000 incurred for preparing this fee motion. Defendant unreasonably forced Plaintiff to file suit and litigate the case for nearly one and a half years and refused to settle.

       In opposition, Defendant argues this is a routine, non-complex case that settled before trial. Plaintiff does not offer any facts demonstrating that any of the work was reasonably necessary. Plaintiff appeared for one deposition. The vast majority of work consisted of propounding basic written discovery that is substantially the same in all lemon law cases. The Court should reduce the fees to $21,195 or less. The billing rates are unreasonable.

       In reply, Plaintiff argues that the attorney’s fees were reasonably incurred because Defendant refused to buy back the defective vehicle and forced Plaintiff to file a lawsuit. The billing resulted from Defendant’s own litigation tactics.

III.    LEGAL STANDARDS

       A prevailing buyer in an action under the SBA “shall be allowed by the court” to recover 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 subd.(d).) A prevailing buyer has the burden of showing that the fees incurred were allowable, reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation, and were reasonable in amount.
(Pulliam v. HNL Automotive Inc. (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 396, 405.) The reasonable hourly rate is that prevailing in the community for similar work. (Id.)

       A reasonable fee can be measured by the marketplace by analyzing the quality and necessity of services and then comparing that cost with what other attorneys with similar experience and ability charge for the same services. (Shaffer v. Superior Court (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 993, 1002.)

       In “lemon law” cases, the court applies the lodestar method in calculating attorney’s fees, including the use of fee multipliers where applicable. (Robertson v. Fleetwood Travel Trailers of California, Inc. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 785, 818.) The court determines a lodestar figure “based on a careful compilation of the actual time spent and reasonable hourly compensation for each attorney.” (Robertson at 819.) The lodestar may be augmented or diminished “by taking various relevant factors into account 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; and (3) the contingent nature of the  fee award, based on the uncertainty of prevailing on the merits and of establishing eligibility for the award.” (Robertson at 819.) The multiplier is a risk enhancement based on the probability of loss. (Robertson at 821.)  

       The prevailing party is entitled to “’compensation for all the hours reasonably spent‘ in litigating the action to a successful conclusion.” (Ibid., italics in original.) “‘Reasonably spent’ means that time spent ‘in the form of inefficient or duplicative efforts is not subject to compensation.”(Horsford v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 359, 394, citing Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132.)

       The court may rely on his or her own experience and is given broad discretion in calculating reasonable attorney’s fees. (Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132 ["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.”].)

IV.    DISCUSSION

       Plaintiff incurred fees to propound discovery and file a motion to compel further responses, which the Court granted. (M.O. 4/24/23.) One deposition was taken (Plaintiff’s). Defendant did not comply with the Court order to serve further responses, resulting in Plaintiff filing a motion to compel Defendant’s compliance, which Plaintiff subsequently withdrew. Plaintiff accepted Defendant’s 998 offer served on October 16, 2023, for $40,000. (Manno decl., ¶ 28.)

       The Court has considered all of the relevant factors including the nature of the case, which in the Court’s view, is a relatively routine “lemon law” case that did not involve novel or difficult questions of law or fact and resolved relatively quickly with little motion practice. The case required minimal discovery. The Court also considers the outcome of the case, which resulted in $40,000, constituting of full repurchase of the vehicle and civil penalties. (Manno decl. ¶ 28.)

       With respect to the number of hours that each counsel spent on various tasks, the Court has reviewed the billing record and finds that a number of the itemized tasks are unreasonable, inefficient, and at times duplicative among the attorneys and paralegal. Plaintiff’s counsel is entitled to reasonable compensation; however, “‘padding” in the form of inefficient or duplicative efforts is not subject to compensation. (Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132.)

       The Court is permitted to make “across the board cuts and apply a negative multiplier” where it determines that the case was not complex, as well as the experience of counsel in this area. (Warren v. Kia Motors America, Inc. (2018) 30 Cal.App.5th 24, 41 [permitting a negative multiplier of 33% to the lodestar fee request of $351,055.26, resulting in a fee award of $115,848.24].)

       The court has discretion to apply a reduction in hours for duplicative and or excessive billing. Proper factors to consider in applying a negative reduction are the lack of complexity, that the matter did not go to trial, that name partners were doing work that could have been done by lower-billing attorneys, and that all the attorneys were doing work that could have been done by paralegals, thus applying a 39% reduction in the lodestar. (Morris v. Hyundai Motor America (2019) 41 Cal.App.5th 24, 41.) These factors are applicable here.

       Plaintiff contends that counsel and staff spent 170.9 hours on this case. The court considers all of the evidence submitted including the Declaration of Alessandro Manno and the itemized billing.

       The Court finds that reasonable fees and time spent are as follows.

Counsel

Requested hourly rate

Permitted hourly fee

Time

 

Nancy Zhang

$515.00

$400.00

23.80

$9,520.00

Alessandro Manno

$400.00

$380.00

83.30

$31,654.00

Robert Aguilar

$210.00

$200.00

11.90

$2,380.00

TOTAL

 

 

 

$43,554.00

 

 

V.      CONCLUSION

       Based on the foregoing, the Court awards reduced fees of $43,554.00 (inclusive of fees incurred to prepare this motion.)