Charlebois v. Angels Baseball LP

Decision Date30 May 2012
Docket NumberCase No. SACV 10–0853 DOC(ANx).
Citation993 F.Supp.2d 1109
PartiesJ. Paul CHARLEBOIS, Plaintiff, v. ANGELS BASEBALL LP et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Amanda Rose Canning, Schwartz Steinsapir Dohrmann & Summers, Los Angeles, Michael D. Seplow, Vincent James DeSimone, Venice, CA, for Plaintiff.

Brent Mathew Giddens, Dawn M. Irizarry, Los Angeles, CA, Timothy M. Freudenberger, Carlton Disante & Freudenberger, Irvine, CA, for Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

DAVID O. CARTER, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Final Approval of Attorneys Fees, Costs, and Enhancement Fees (Dkt. 95) filed by Plaintiff J Paul Charlebois (Plaintiff). After considering the moving papers and oral argument, the Court GRANTS the Motion.

I. Plaintiff Qualifies As A Party Entitled to Reasonable Attorneys' Fees Under Both Federal and California Statutes

Plaintiff moves for fees under three statutes: (1) Section 12205 of Title 42 of the United States Code; (2) California Civil Code Section 55; and (3) California Civil Procedure Code Section 1021.5. Plaintiff qualifies as a party entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees under all three of these statutes.

a. Federal Section 12205 provides reasonable attorneys' fees to a prevailing party

Section 12205 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides that a court “may allow the prevailing party to receive attorneys' fees and costs from defendants in cases brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.See42 U.S.C. § 122051; Barrios v. California Interscholastic Fed'n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir.2002). The Ninth Circuit has reversed as an abuse of discretion the denials of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 12205 where the party seeking fees satisfied the statutory criteria. See e.g., Barrios v. California Interscholastic Fed'n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir.2002); Skaff v. Meridien N. Am. Beverly Hills, LLC, 506 F.3d 832, 835, 844 (9th Cir.2007) (reversing denial of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 12205 in action to improve wheelchair users' access to hotel because statute's requirements were met by court-enforceable settlement agreement” that “achieved [plaintiff's] objective of obtaining injunctive relief to make [defendant's hotel] accessible”). This is because a “prevailing plaintiff ... should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.” Barrios, 277 F.3d at 1134 (9th Cir.2002).

The Ninth Circuit has held that an ADA plaintiff is a prevailing party if she: (1) “achieve[s] a material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties; and (2) that alteration is “judicially sanctioned.” Jankey v. Poop Deck, 537 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir.2008). The second requirement can be met in many ways, including when a party enters into a legally enforceable agreement with the defendant. Barrios v. California Interscholastic Fed'n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir.2002) (holding that plaintiff was “prevailing party under 42 U.S.C. § 12205 because he could enforce a settlement against the defendant); Carbonell v. I.N.S., 429 F.3d 894, 899 (9th Cir.2005) (noting that Ninth Circuit “is in agreement with the vast majority of other circuits” that hold that “a litigant can ‘prevail’ for the purposes of awarding attorney's fees as a result of judicial action other than a judgment on the merits or a consent decree”).

The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff is the prevailing party based on the settlement he reached with Defendants.

b. California Section 55 provides reasonable attorneys' fees to a prevailing party

California Civil Code Section 55 provides that a “prevailing party ... shall be entitled” to receive attorneys' fees and costs from defendants in cases brought under the California Disabled Persons Act (“CDPA”), Cal. Civ.Code § 54. SeeCal. Civ.Code § 552; Barrios, 277 F.3d at 1137. As with fees under Section 12205, the parties do not dispute that Plaintiff is the prevailing party under this California statute. See Barrios, 277 F.3d at 1137 (reversing denial of attorneys' fees because plaintiff was “prevailing party under Section 55 given that settlement agreement gave plaintiff access to the baseball field and $10,000); cf. Hubbard v. SoBreck, LLC (Hubbard I), 554 F.3d 742, 745 (9th Cir.2009) (explaining that “the proof required to show a violation of the CDPA and of the ADA is identical” and so “a grant of fees on the California cause of action [under Section 55] is necessarily a grant of fees as to the ADA claim [under Section 12205]).

c. California Section 1021.5 provides reasonable attorneys' fees to a successful party whose legal victory transcends her personal interest

California Civil Procedure Code Section 1021.5 provides that “a court may award attorneys' fees to a successful 3 party against one or more opposing parties in any action which has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest if: (a) a significant benefit, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, has been conferred on the general public or a large class of persons, (b) the necessity and financial burden of private enforcement ... are such as to make the award appropriate, and (c) such fees should not in the interest of justice be paid out of the recovery, if any.” Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 1021.5. These requirements are satisfied, and thus an award under Section 1021.5 “is appropriate,” if “the cost of the claimant's legal victory transcends his personal interest, that is, when the necessity for pursuing the lawsuit placed a burden on the plaintiff out of proportion to his individual stake in the matter.” In re Conservatorship of Whitley, 50 Cal.4th 1206, 1215, 117 Cal.Rptr.3d 342, 241 P.3d 840, 846 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Courts have reversed as an abuse of discretion the denials of attorneys' fees under Section 1021.5 where the party seeking fees satisfied the statutory criteria. See e.g., Skaff v. Meridien N. Am. Beverly Hills, LLC, 506 F.3d 832, 835, 844 (9th Cir.2007) (reversing denial of attorneys' fees under Section 1021.5 in action to improve wheelchair users' access to hotel because statute's requirements were met by court-enforceable settlement agreement” that “achieved [plaintiff's] objective of obtaining injunctive relief to make [defendant's hotel] accessible”); Hull v. Rossi, 13 Cal.App.4th 1763, 1765, 17 Cal.Rptr.2d 457 (1993).

Each of the requirements of Section 1021.5 has been met in the instant case. First, this lawsuit has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, namely, the right of wheelchair users to have affordable access to facilities. Second, there has been a significant benefit to a large class of persons because this lawsuit was successful in enforcing the civil rights of Plaintiff and the certified class of wheelchair users. See Estrada v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., 154 Cal.App.4th 1, 16–17, 64 Cal.Rptr.3d 327 (2007) (plaintiff was entitled to attorneys' fees under Section 1021.5 where he “pursued this public interest class action not only for himself but on behalf of a class comprised of [defendant's] past and present drivers”). Third, because this action was for injunctive relief alone, no fees can be paid out of the recovery.

Finally, the necessity and financial burden requirement “seeks economic equalization of representation in cases where private enforcement is necessary.” In re Conservatorship of Whitley, 50 Cal.4th at 1214, 117 Cal.Rptr.3d 342, 241 P.3d 840. This requirement asks the court to examine: (1) the “adequacy of public enforcement” (necessity prong); and (2) the financial disincentives and incentives of private action (financial burden prong). Id. As with most lawsuits brought under the CDPA to improve disabled people's access to facilities, the necessity prong is satisfied because the California legislature recognized the inadequacy of public enforcement when it provided for a private right of action and the recovery of attorneys' fees under Section 55. Donald v. Cafe Royale, Inc., 218 Cal.App.3d 168, 179, 266 Cal.Rptr. 804 (1990) (extensively reviewing the repeated expansion of the CDPA's enforcement mechanisms and concluding that it “is plain [that] the Legislature's purpose in imposing increased penalties and additional enforcement methods is to guarantee compliance with equal access requirements.”). Similarly, the financial burden prong is satisfied because the $18,000 that Plaintiff seeks as his enhancement fee is not sufficient incentive to take on this litigation, which spanned more than two years. See Jones v. Pasta Pelican, Inc., C 05–04245 WHA, 2010 WL 1465699 (N.D.Cal. Apr. 13, 2010) (granting attorneys' fees in action to improve wheelchair users' access to restaurant under both 42 U.S.C. § 12205 and Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 1021.5 and rejecting defendant's argument that necessity and financial burden requirement was not met).

d. Conclusion regarding entitlement to reasonable fees

In sum, Plaintiff qualifies as a party entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees under all three of these statutes under which he moves for fees: (1) Section 12205 of Title 42 of the United States Code; (2) California Civil Code Section 55; and (3) California Civil Procedure Code Section 1021.5. Thus, the only dispute is whether the amount of fees sought is reasonable.

II. Reasonableness of Fees

A “reasonable” fee is a fee that is “sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil rights case.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 1672, 176 L.Ed.2d 494 (2010) (discussing analogous civil rights statute).4 All three statutes under which Plaintiff moves calculate the reasonableness of attorneys' fees using the “lodestar” method, which is obtained by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on litigation by a reasonable hourly rate....

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