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Tentative Ruling
Judge Pauline Maxwell
Department 6 SB-Anacapa
1100 Anacapa Street P.O. Box 21107 Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107

CIVIL LAW & MOTION

David E. R. Woolley vs Timothy J Trager et al

Case No: 17CV04863
Hearing Date: Wed Mar 14, 2018 9:30

Nature of Proceedings: Attorney Fees

TENTATIVE RULING:     Defendants’ motion for attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16 is granted. Defendants are awarded fees in the amount of $20,156.00 and costs in the amount of $116.00.

 

BACKGROUND:

This was an action for malicious prosecution brought by attorney-plaintiff David R. Woolley (“Woolley”) against attorney-defendant Timothy J. Trager (“Trager”) and his law firm, defendant Reicker, Pfau, Pyle & McRoy, LLP (“RPPM”). Woolley was the counsel of record for the plaintiffs in an underlying legal malpractice lawsuit entitled Paradigm Oil, Inc. v. BakerHostetler, et al., Santa Barbara Superior Court Case No. 14666617. Shortly before the underlying action settled, Woolley was terminated as counsel for the plaintiffs. Woolley thereafter filed a “Notice of Attorney Lien” in the case for $1,680,120.00. In response to the fee claim, the plaintiffs hired Trager and RPPM to resolve the fee dispute. When Woolley refused to withdraw his lien, Trager filed a motion to terminate the lien. After granting a continuance to allow for further briefing by both sides, the court denied the motion on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the matter.

On June 22, 2017, Woolley filed the instant action for malicious prosecution against Trager and RPPM. On September 15, 2017, Trager and RPPM filed a special motion to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16 (the “anti-SLAPP” statute) on the grounds that their actions in the underlying lawsuit involved a protected activity (the filing of a motion) and Woolley could not establish his malicious prosecution claim as a matter of law. On January 10, 2018, the court granted the special motion to strike and ordered the complaint stricken.

Defendants now move for an award of attorney’s fees and costs as the prevailing party on their special motion to strike. There is no filed opposition to the motion.

ANALYSIS:

Under Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16, subdivision (c)(1), the prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike “shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney’s fees and costs.” The award of attorney’s fees to a successful defendant on a special motion to strike under Section 425.16 is “mandatory.” Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1131. As the California Supreme Court explained, the purpose of the mandatory fee-shifting provision is to both discourage meritless lawsuits and to provide financial relief to the victim of a SLAPP lawsuit “by imposing the litigation costs on the party seeking to ‘chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for redress of grievances.’” Ibid.

Only those attorney’s fees and costs related to the special motion to strike are recoverable under Section 425.16. Jackson v. Yarbray (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 75, 92. However, the trial court is obligated to award attorney’s fees sufficient to compensate the prevailing party for all proceedings directly related to the motion to strike, including any hours reasonably spent on the fee motion. Id., at 92-93; see also, Premier Medical Management Systems, Inc. v. California Insurance Guarantee Association (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 550, 556 (fee award should include compensation for all the hours reasonably spent on the motion, including those relating to the fee claim). A defendant who prevails on a special motion to strike under Section 425.16 may seek an attorney’s fee award as part of the motion, by a subsequent noticed motion, or as part of its cost memorandum at the conclusion of the litigation. Carpenter v. Jack in the Box Corporation (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 454, 461.

In Ketchum v. Moses, supra, the California Supreme Court held that the “lodestar” is the appropriate method for determining reasonable attorney’s fees in an anti-SLAPP motion. “[T]he lodestar is the basic fee for comparable legal services in the community; it may be adjusted by the court based on factors including . . . (1) the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, (2) the skill displayed in presenting them, (3) the extent to which the nature of the litigation precluded other employment by the attorneys, and (4) the contingent nature of the fee award.” Id., at 1132; see also, PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1095 (“[T]he fee setting inquiry in California ordinarily begins with the ‘lodestar,’ i.e., the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate. The lodestar figure may then be adjusted, based on consideration of factors specific to the case, in order to fix the fee at the fair market value for the legal services provided.”). The determination of the appropriate amount of fees to be awarded using the lodestar method rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and its determination will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is clearly wrong. Premier Medical Management Systems, Inc., supra, at 557.

In this case, defendants seek $17,968.00 in fees related to their successful anti-SLAPP motion, plus $2,188.00 in fees for preparing the current motion, for a total fee award of $20,156.00. Attorney Jared M. Ahern spent 52.2 hours preparing the anti-SLAPP papers, including 30.2 hours reviewing the complaint and background documents, formulating arguments, and preparing the motion, 20.6 hours preparing the reply papers, and 1.4 hours assisting attorney Timothy W. Fredericks in his preparation of oral argument and preparing the notice of ruling after hearing. (Ahern Dec., ¶3.) Mr. Ahern also spent 10.2 hours preparing the motion for attorney’s fees and supporting documents. (Ahern Dec., ¶4.) Mr. Ahern’s billing rate is $190.00 per hour. (Ahern Dec., ¶5.) Mr. Fredericks spent 32.2 hours on matters related to the anti-SLAPP motion, including revisions to the moving and reply papers and preparing for and attending the hearing on the motion via court call. (Fredericks Dec., ¶3.) Mr. Fredericks also spent 1.0 hour assisting in the preparation of the motion for fees. (Fredericks Dec., ¶5.) Mr. Fredericks’s billing rate is $250.00 per hour. (Fredericks Dec., ¶6.)

In addition to the attorney’s fees, defendants incurred costs of $116.00 for the court call appearance on the special motion to strike. (Ahern Dec., ¶4.)  

The court finds that defendants’ requested fees and costs are entirely reasonable given counsel’s experience, the type of work involved, and the complexity of the case. Anti-SLAPP motions require more attorney time than most motions as the legal and factual issues are numerous. The factual background giving rise to this action was also complex as it involved an underlying malpractice lawsuit with numerous parties and a difficult record. Accordingly, the court will grant defendants’ motion for attorney’s fees and costs. Defendants are awarded attorney’s fees in the amount of $20,156.00 and costs in the amount of $116.00.

 
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