Intervenor Was Entitled to Attorney Fees Under CCP §1021.5, C.A. Declares
Bedsworth Rejects Contention That State’s Ineligibility for Fees Extends to Party Supporting State’s Position
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge properly awarded $143,555 in attorney fees to an intervenor in a failed action against the state, Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal held yesterday, rejecting the plaintiff’s position that because the intervenor sided with the state, it was foreclosed from garnering fees pursuant to the private attorney general statute, Code of Civil Procedure §1021.5.
Acting Presiding Justice William W. Bedsworth authored the unpublished opinion. It affirms an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant.
The action was brought in 2019 by the City of Huntington Beach in Orange Superior Court, but it was transferred to Los Angeles. Huntington Beach sought a writ to bar enforcement of certain housing laws which, it asserted, intruded upon its prerogatives as a chartered city.
The Kennedy Commission was allowed to intervene. It argued that the measures enacted by the Legislature are valid.
Chalfant agreed with the position put forth by the state and Kennedy. In making the attorney-fee award to the commission, Chalfant relied upon §1021.5 which says, in part:
“Upon motion, a court may award attorneys’ fees to a successful 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, or of enforcement by one public entity against another public entity, 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.”
“City’s contention is that Kennedy was entitled to the same attorney fees as the State of California, that is, none. City argues that, as an intervenor, Kennedy is restricted to the same remedies as the State. City has cited no cases discussing whether attorney fees could be awarded under section 1021.5 to a private litigant co-litigating with the State.”
He explained that the purpose of §1021.5 is to encourage participation in litigation to vindicate to public’s interest, while the state needs no inducement to do so, such being its duty.
Private parties “litigating alongside the Attorney General.” Bedsworth declared, are entitled to attorney fees if they “show a financial burden out of proportion to their individual stake.” He remarked:
“To hold otherwise would discourage anyone—public or private—from ever joining with the Attorney General in public interest litigation and frustrate the intent of section 1021.5, which is to encourage litigation that truly benefits the public.”
The justice noted:
“In this case, according to the trial court’s own assessment, Kennedy advanced significant legal theories the court adopted and produced non-duplicative evidence significantly contributing to the court’s judgment.”
The California Coalition for Rural Housing and Housing California was also allowed to intervene, but was denied fees. If Kennedy deserved an award, it did also, it asserted.
“According to Housing’s own statement, they are focused on homelessness and affordable rural housing, and their interest is statewide, educating and influencing state legislators about housing policy and promoting legislation that furthers the development of affordable housing in rural areas. Their interest in City’s local zoning laws is, at best, tangential.”
He said Chalfant correctly determined “that Housing had no direct interest in the litigation and was therefore ineligible for attorney fees under section 1021.5.”
That intervenor, he remarked, “will have to settle for the satisfaction of having helped achieve the outcome” that it “considered correct.”
The case is City of Huntington Beach v. State of California, G061184.
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