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Judge Erred in Denying Statutory Fee Award

February 11, 2015 | Posted in : Expenses / Costs, Fee Award, Fee Entitlement / Recoverability, Fee Issues on Appeal, Fee Jurisprudence, Fee Reduction, Fee Request, Fee Statute

A recent Metropolitan News Enterprise story, “Judge Erred in Denying Fee Award to Attorney Parris—C.A.,” reports that a California Court of Appeals held that a judge, appalled by the size of a fee request by Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, erred in denying fees, in their entirety, given that an award was mandatory under a statute.

Parris, an Antelope Valley attorney, sought a $387,750 award of fees in a case in which his client Jacob Heller, recovered only $2,158, based on Labor Code violations by his former employer.  Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara M. Scheper, found the fee request “so unreasonable and excessive as to shock the conscience,” and refused to make any award.

In an unpublished opinion, Presiding Justice Roger Boren wrote, “Despite the court’s understandable shock at the size of Heller’s request, an award of ‘reasonable’ attorney fees is mandated by statute.” 

He pointed out that under Labor Code § 1194(a), an employee “is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of…overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.”  Boren wrote, “Given the statutory mandate to award a “reasonable” attorney fee, it was an abuse of discretion to deny fees altogether.”

He pointed out, however, “Notably, the trial court is not required to calculate an attorney fee based on actual time purportedly expended on the case.  Labor Code section 1194 does not mandate a fee based on actual time, instead giving the court discretion to determine a ‘reasonable’ attorney fee.”