Deane Gardenhome Assn. v. Denktas

Decision Date26 February 1993
Docket NumberNo. G012381,G012381
Citation13 Cal.App.4th 1394,16 Cal.Rptr.2d 816
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesDEANE GARDENHOME ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Haluk H. DENKTAS et al., Defendants and Appellants.
OPINION

WALLIN, Associate Justice.

Deane Gardenhome Association (the "Association") filed suit against Haluk and Mary Denktas for injunctive relief and damages after the Denktases allegedly painted their house in violation of the Association's restrictive covenants (CC & R's) encumbering the Denktases property. The CC & R's contained an attorney fees provision. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Denktases, but denied their request for attorney fees. The Denktases appeal, contending the trial court abused its discretion. We reverse and remand with directions.

* * *

The Denktases were homeowners in a Huntington Beach development governed by the Association and covered by CC & R's recorded in 1982. 1 The CC & R's required homeowners to obtain approval of the Association's architectural review committee before painting the exterior of the house and restricted the color choices to those approved by the Association. The Denktases hired a painter to paint their house pink and green. The painter took paint samples to the Association's president to obtain his approval of the colors. The president approved the green shade but admonished the painter to "tone down" the pink shade. The painter returned with a different shade of pink which was approved by the president.

After the Denktases painted their house, the Association advised them that the colors were unacceptable and the house would have to be repainted. The Association denied that its president had approved the selected colors. Haluk Denktas responded with a letter to the Association stating he would not repaint his house. He warned, "I certainly hope that the Association does not attempt to do a foolish thing like repinting [sic ] any of the walls. Such encroachment in to [sic ] my property is not within the provisions of the CC & R's and will be cosidered [sic ] as trespassing and will be delt [sic ] with swiftly and with extreme prejudice." The cost of repainting the house would have been between $1,500 and $1,800.

The Association filed its complaint seeking injunctive relief, damages, costs and attorney fees, provided for in the CC & R's. 2 In its trial brief the Association stated it was seeking $16,708 in attorney fees incurred up to the time of trial. The trial court ruled in favor of the Denktases, concluding the Association's president had approved the color choice. The Association did not appeal.

Subsequently, the Denktases filed a motion seeking an award of $11,533 in attorney fees. The trial court denied their request noting, "I remember I made some remarks about this when the case ended. [p] I think I said don't come back here looking for attorneys [sic ] fees. [p] My thought is with a micro ounce of cooperation, insight and judgment, this could have been a ten-minute small claims case. [p] I'm not giving attorneys [sic] fees to anybody."

* * *

As a general rule, a prevailing party is not entitled to attorney fees unless authorized by agreement or statute. (Braun v. City of Taft (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 332, 348, 201 Cal.Rptr. 654.) The Denktases contend the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to award attorney fees in view of Civil Code section 1717 and the CC & Rs which expressly entitle the prevailing party to attorney fees. In response the Association argues the trial court, in essence, found the Denktases were not the prevailing party and, therefore, were not entitled to attorney fees. In the alternative, the Association argues the CC & R's only require an award of "attorney fees" not an award of "reasonable attorney fees," and it was reasonable for the court to set the amount of attorney fees to be awarded at "zero." Both determinations, the Association argues, are supported by the evidence. We disagree.

Civil Code section 1717 ensures reciprocal enforcement of attorney fees provisions by providing for the award of reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party in an action on a contract which provides for award of such fees to any party on the contract. The trial court must determine which party prevailed on the contract. Although generally the prevailing party is the one "who recovered a greater relief in the action on the contract[,]" the court may determine there is no prevailing party. (Civ.Code, § 1717, subd. (b)(1).) 3

"The trial court's determination that there was no prevailing party on the contract is an exercise of discretion. We will disturb it only if there has been a clear showing of an abuse of that discretion." (McLarand, Vasquez & Partners, Inc. v. Downey Savings & Loan Assn. (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 1450, 1456, 282 Cal.Rptr. 828.) Such an abuse is present here.

In Smith v. Krueger (1983) 150 Cal.App.3d 752, 198 Cal.Rptr. 174, the plaintiffs, trustors under a deed of trust, brought an action for declaratory relief against the defendant beneficiaries who had begun proceedings to enforce an acceleration clause in the deed of trust which also contained an attorney fees provision. The plaintiffs prevailed on a motion for summary judgment but the trial court denied attorney's fees. The appellate court reversed holding, "Although the trial court retains considerable discretion in fixing the amount of attorney fees, it was an abuse of discretion ... to deny them completely." (Id. at p. 757, 198 Cal.Rptr. 174.) Here, the Denktases were sued by the Association seeking an injunction to compel them to repaint their house and unspecified damages. In addition the Association sought its own attorney fees incurred in enforcing its CC & R's. The trial court resolved the conflicts in the testimony in favor of the Denktases. It concluded they had obtained approval of their color choices from the Association's president. The judgment entered was a simple, unqualified win for the Denktases.

We are unaware of any authority that would support a conclusion that the Denktases were not the prevailing party in this action. They were sued by their homeowners' association and they successfully defended that suit.

Typically, a determination of no prevailing party results when both parties seek relief, but neither prevails, or when the ostensibly prevailing party receives only a part of the relief sought. In other words, the judgment is " 'considered good news and bad news as to each of the parties[.]' " (Nasser v. Superior Court (1984) 156 Cal.App.3d 52, 60, 202 Cal.Rptr. 552. See also Bankes v....

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