Attorney Fees Award Reversed And Remanded For Trial Court To Provide A Specific Explanation For The Award.
A man was falsely accused of sexual activity and held to answer after a preliminary hearing during which a fabricated lab report was used as evidence. After the charges were dismissed, the man sued a City and a police officer for violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Immediately prior to trial, the parties settled the dispute and the man sought attorney fees in the amount of $1,448,397 based on 2,249.9 hours of compensable attorney hours and costs of $72,255. The trial court awarded $436,807.50 for fees and $23,935.07 for costs. The Court of Appeal noted the parties’ settlement agreement specifically provided for fees pursuant to federal law, but was silent with regard to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which permits recovery by a successful plaintiff when “a significant benefit, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, has been conferred on the general public or a large class of persons.” The appellate court declined to add terms to the settlement agreement and concluded plaintiff was entitled to recover those fees provided for in the agreement. However, the appeals court found that after the trial court made a lodestar calculation, the amount for fees was $873,615, but the court divided that amount by half. The appellate court then concluded the trial court did not explain its reasons for arriving at the amount it did, stating that “unless such an explanation is given, adequate appellate review is not feasible.” The trial court’s order was reversed and the case was remanded to enable the superior court to reconsider plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees and “to provide a clear, specific explanation of the resulting award, including the reasons for its calculation of the lodestar amount and for any adjustment of the lodestar amount.” (Kerkeles v. City of San Jose (Cal. App. Sixth Dist.; December 18, 2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 88 [196 Cal.Rptr.3d 252].)