I added Anthony “Tom” Caso’s “The Opening Brief” to my “Appellate Blogs” blogroll a few weeks ago. Tom is a Sacramento appellate attorney and new appellate blogger. (By the way, Tom, welcome to the blogosphere.)
Today, he has an excellent post entitled “Can Fees Exceed Damages?” He discusses yesterday’s decision in Estrada v. Fedex Ground Package System, Inc., case no. B189031 (2d Dist. August 13, 2007), in which the Court of Appeal reverses an attorney fee award for plaintiff and remands for reconsideration of the amount. This was no “small potatoes” case. From the opinion:
Estrada’s motion asked for $619,691 in costs and $6,789,325 for his attorneys’ fees, a total of $7,409,016 — plus a 2.0 multiplier as compensation for delay and contingency, a total of $14,818,032. The trial court reduced the fee by 18 percent (finding the amount “slightly bloated”) but otherwise granted the motion (including the 2.0 multiplier) and gave Estrada a total of $12,373,875 for costs and fees, noting the risk inherent in a contingent fee, the “financial burden of private enforcement,” and the years of “long, hard-fought” and “labor intensive” litigation involving “enforcement of an important right” that conferred a “significant benefit on a large class.” FedEx contends the award is erroneous because Estrada was motivated primarily by his own financial interests, that any benefit to a larger class was incidental, that no significant benefit was conferred on the public or a larger class, and that the trial court’s dual use of the same reasons to both calculate the fee and justify the multiplier created a windfall.
Tom provides the highlights of the court’s resolution of the issues at his blog, including an excellent tip for any attorney briefing a fee motion in a public interest case, especially any attorney considering requesting a multiplier.