Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cruz v. Ayromloo (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 3, 2007)

O'Melveny & Myers brought a lawsuit on behalf of thirty-two low-income tenants who had been wrongfully evicted from their apartments. It won. Four of those thirty-two tenants had an attorney fee provision in their contracts, so O'Melveny requests attorney fees of over $413,000. Which is way more than the four plaintiffs recovered at trial. But, hey, that's the way it works sometimes. Plus, we're O'Melveny. We charge a fair piece.

The trial court (Judge Elias in LA) cuts the fee request by a lot, but still awards almost $124,000 in fees. An amount that, the landlord notes, is 131 times higher than the LA Superior Court's guidelines for fee awards in contract cases. That said, the $124,000 award is a lot less than the $413,000 requested, and the trial judge explained that part of the reason for the big haircut was because O'Melveny "knew this was a mildly pro bono type work" given the small amounts at stake.

The landlord appeals. And loses. So that's $124,000 -- plus attorney fees on appeal -- down.

Not only that, but Justice Johnson also makes fairly clear (without expressly holding) that had O'Melveny filed a cross-appeal of the haircut it took on fees, it almost certainly would have won, since it's impermissible to whack a fee request on the ground that you "knew going in" that it was probably a pro bono case. You still get reasonable fees notwithstanding the fact that you might have been willing to do this entirely pro bono. A rule that's clearly right.

So the party that appeals loses and the party that probably should have appealed wins, but wins less than it might.