Post-Arbitration Petition Attorney Fee Order is Appealable

In Otay River Constructors v. San Diego Expressway, case no. D049612 (4th Dist. Jan. 7, 2008), the Court of Appeal holds that an order denying an award of contractual attorney fees to a party who succeeded in defeating a petition for arbitration in an action brought solely for that purpose is appealable.

The court reasoned that where an action is brought solely to enforce a contractual arbitration provision, then a defendant’s defeat of that petition is effectively a final judgment because it disposes of the only issue before the court, even if further litigation is contemplated.

Thus, an order denying an award of attorney fees to the party who successfully opposed the petition for arbitration is appealable as a “special order after final judgment” under Code of Civil Procedure section 1294, subdivision (e). Section 1294 controls, rather than Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1, subdivision (a)(2), which makes appealable an order made after a final judgment, because the former is part of legislatively created “comprehensive procedural scheme to govern arbitration proceedings.”

On the merits, the court of appeal reverses the order denying fees. Since the order denying the petition to compel arbitration disposed of the only issue before the court, the defendant was the “prevailing party” for purposes of Civil Code section 1717, notwithstanding that the parties may later litigate the substance of their dispute in a later action.