Department 3 SB-Anacapa
1100 Anacapa Street P.O. Box 21107 Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107
CIVIL LAW & MOTION
Stanley Klein et al vs Jen McCormick
|Hearing Date:||Tue Jul 30, 2013 9:30|
Nature of Proceedings: Motion Confirm Costs/Determine Prejudgment InterestMotion to Confirm Costs, Determine Prejudgment Interest, and Set Attorney’s Fees RULING Plaintiffs’ motion to confirm costs, determine prejudgment interest, and fix attorney’s fees is granted as set forth herein. Plaintiffs are awarded costs in the amount of $705.00 and attorney’s fees in the amount of $26,026.18. The request for prejudgment interest in the amount of $1,119.67 is denied. BACKGROUND Plaintiffs Stanley Klein and Shelley Klein are the owners of a rental property located at 218 East Yanonali Street, Unit B, Santa Barbara, California 93101. Defendant Jen McCormick was a tenant at the property. After defendant failed to pay the agreed upon rent, plaintiffs initiated the present unlawful detainer action. Trial was held on June 25, 2013. Defendant failed to appear for trial and judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs and against defendant. Plaintiffs were awarded past-due rent of $9,780.00, prejudgment interest, costs, and attorney’s fees. Possession was not an issue because defendant had previously vacated the property. Plaintiffs now move for an order fixing the costs, prejudgment interest, and attorney’s fees. There is no filed opposition to the motion. ANALYSIS On July 9, 2013, plaintiffs filed and served their memorandum of costs in the amount of $705.00. Any motion to strike or tax costs was required to be filed within 15 days after service of the cost memorandum. Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 3.1700(b)(1). Defendant never filed a motion to strike or tax costs and therefore plaintiffs are awarded their costs in the amount of $705.00. Ordinarily, plaintiffs would also be entitled to prejudgment interest. “Every person who is entitled to recover damages certain, or capable of being made certain by calculation, and the right to recover which is vested in him upon a particular day, is entitled to recover interest thereon from that day . . . .” Civ. Code §3287(a); see also, North Oakland Medical Clinic v. Rogers (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 824, 828 (under California law, payment of prejudgment interest is allowed from the first date that there is a breach of contract on a liquidated claim). At trial, plaintiffs were awarded damages in the amount of $9,780.00 for past-due rent. However, the interest calculation that is attached to plaintiffs’ motion as Exhibit 3 is difficult to follow. The calculation is also based on an incorrect judgment amount of $15,180.00. The request for prejudgment interest in the sum of $1,119.67 is therefore denied. At trial, plaintiffs were awarded reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to the attorney’s fees provision in the rental agreement. “In any action on a contract, where the contract specifically provides that attorney’s fees and costs, which are incurred to enforce that contract, shall be awarded . . . to the prevailing party, then the party who is determined to be the party prevailing on the contract . . . shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees in addition to other costs.” Civ. Code §1717(a). In determining the amount of reasonable attorney’s fees to award a prevailing party, the Court has broad discretion. PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1095. Typically, fees are determined by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the matter by a reasonable hourly rate (the “lodestar” method of calculation). Ibid. “California courts have consistently held that the computation of time spent on a case and the reasonable value of that time is fundamental to a determination of an appropriate attorneys’ fee award. [Citation.] The reasonable hourly rate is that prevailing in the community for similar work.” Ibid. Plaintiffs were the prevailing party at trial. At the beginning of the case, plaintiffs were represented by attorney James M. Sweeney of Allen & Kimbell, LLP. Mr. Sweeney handled the initial communications with defendant, service of the three-day notice to pay rent or quit, and the filing of the unlawful detainer complaint. As detailed in the motion, defendant refused to pay the rent that was owed or vacate the premises and instead adopted a strategy of delaying the proceedings and increasing plaintiffs’ costs as much as possible. On the last day to appear in response to service of the summons, defendant filed a motion to quash service. The motion was denied by the Court. On the last day to respond following denial of the motion, defendant filed a demurrer to the complaint. The demurrer was overruled. Plaintiffs were forced to respond to each of these matters. Mr. Sweeney billed his services at the rate of $300.00 per hour. His total fees were $11,587.18. (Sweeney Dec., ¶¶ 2-7, Ex. 6.) Plaintiffs became frustrated with the progress of the case and hired new counsel, attorney David W. Magnusson of Haws, Record & Magnusson, LLP. Mr. Magnusson’s billing rate was $275.00 per hour. Mr. Magnusson handled all discovery and trial preparation in the case, including preparation of the readiness and settlement conference statement, trial brief, trial exhibits, and motions in limine. Mr. Magnusson also responded to a meritless discovery motion filed by defendant. The Court denied the motion and sanctioned defendant $500.00 (which was never paid). When Mr. Magnusson developed a medical condition that required immediate attention, he hired Terry Bartlett of Reetz, Fox & Bartlett, LLP, another experienced landlord tenant litigator, to assist him in preparing the case for trial. Ms. Bartlett’s hourly rate was $350.00 per hour. Trial was held on June 25, 2013. Defendant requested a jury trial, but failed to appear. Mr. Magnusson’s total fees were $12,767.00. (Magnusson Dec., ¶¶ 2-5, Ex. 2.) Ms. Bartlett’s total fees were $1,672.00. (Magnusson Dec., ¶7, Ex. 4.) The Court finds that the above fees were reasonably incurred in the prosecution of the case and awards plaintiffs the sum of $26,026.18 for attorneys’ fees. Defendant’s conduct greatly increased the costs to plaintiffs and therefore she should bear the burden of her actions, especially since she failed to appear for trial.