Friday, December 24, 2004
Time Limit for Bringing Fee Motion Is Inapplicable to Postjudgment Proceedings, Court of Appeal Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A rule of court limiting the time in which a prevailing party may move for an award of attorney fees pursuant to a statute or contract does not apply to awards for proceedings that take place after judgment is entered, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. One affirmed an order requiring the state to pay fees under the private attorney general statue to the lawyers who successfully fought efforts by the Department of Health Services to modify a 1993 injunction. The injunction requiring DHS to provide certain Medi-Cal benefits to undocumented aliens was affirmed in 1994, and motions by the state to modify it were denied in 1997 and 2000.
Alameda Superior Court Judge Judith D. Ford awarded more than $216,000 in fees to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, based on their successful defense of the injunction against the modification motions, last year. In doing so, she rejected the contention that the fee motion, brought in May of last year—more than three years after the last motion to modify was denied—was untimely under California Rules of Court, rule 870.2.
The rule contains three subdivisions. Subdivision (a) makes the rule applicable to claims for statutory and contractual attorney fees in civil cases in the absence of a contrary statute; subdivision (b), titled “Attorney Fees Before Trial Court Judgment,” requires that a motions for such fees be filed within the time allowed for an appeal; and subdivision (c), titled “Attorney Fees on Appeal,” requires that fees on appeal, unless claimed under subdivision (b), be requested within the time allowed for serving and filing a memorandum of costs.
The state argued that an order denying modification of an injunction is a “judgment” within the meaning of subdivision (b). But Justice Sandra Margulies, writing yesterday for the Court of Appeal, disagreed.
“In our view, the rule was not intended to govern the time for bringing motions for fees arising from post-final judgment activities, such as litigation over modifications to a permanent injunction,” the justice wrote. “The rule’s drafters either did not consider such postjudgment fee motions or decided not to address them in the rule.”
The justice noted that subdivision (b) specifically refers to a “judgment,” rather than to “appealable orders.” While the term “judgment” is sometimes used in other contexts to refer to all appealable orders, there is no indication the Judicial Council intended to do so in this instance, nor would such an interpretation be consistent with the policy behind the rule, the justice said.
“If anything...such an equation would promote piecemeal litigation over fees, which the drafters of rule 870.2 wanted to avoid,” Margulies wrote.
The case is Crespin v. Bonta, A104418.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company