Craig Mariam and Alison Pringle obtained reversal in full of an attorneys’ fees award under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”) to a plaintiff who brought claims against the firm’s client, a private cemetery.
The Fourth Appellate District of California recently reversed the trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff in the amount of $38,000. The underlying lawsuit arose out of an alleged agreement to purchase a cemetery space. The plaintiff brought claims against the cemetery for breach of contract, violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, violation of the CLRA, unfair competition, and negligence. Critically, the plaintiff sought solely injunctive relief under the CLRA. After accepting a C.C.P. section 998 offer to compromise, plaintiff dismissed each cause of action with prejudice. The plaintiff subsequently moved for $67,000 in attorneys’ fees based on her CLRA claim. The trial court granted plaintiff’s motion in part, awarding her $38,000 in fees and reasoning that, if the case had progressed, plaintiff would have sought damages under the CLRA so as to permit a fees award under that statute.
The Court of Appeal reversed the fee award in full. The Court of Appeal found that the plaintiff was precluded from qualifying as a prevailing party as a matter of law because: (1) plaintiff sued for solely injunctive relief under the CLRA and did not recover injunctive relief; and (2) the section 998 offer was silent as to the issue of damages or a prevailing party. Further, plaintiff could not establish she suffered damage within the meaning of the CLRA.