Thursday, January 3, 2019

Stratton v. Beck

This case began as a dispute over approximately $300 in unpaid wages.  It has since transmogrified into a dispute concerning attorney fees totaling nearly 200 times that amount and is here now for the second time.  In the previous appeal, appellant Thomas Beck challenged the trial court’s award of attorney fees for work that respondent Anthony Stratton’s attorney performed in that forum.  We affirmed the trial court’s ruling, holding that Stratton’s motion for $31,365 in statutory attorney fees was timely and supported by substantial evidence. At the conclusion of our opinion, we stated, “In the interest of justice, the parties are to bear their own costs of appeal.” (Stratton v. Beck (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 483, 487, 498 (Stratton)). We reiterated that allocation in the ensuing remittitur:  “The parties are to bear their own costs of appeal.”

The parties interpreted this directive differently.  Beck maintained that “costs” included attorney fees on appeal, precluding Stratton from seeking them under Labor Code section 98.2, subdivision (c).  Stratton disagreed and filed a motion in the trial court seeking $114,840 in appellate attorney fees—a lodestar of $57,420, doubled in light of the complexity of the underlying issues.  The trial court awarded Stratton the lodestar and denied Beck’s motion to reconsider or clarify the ruling. It also awarded Stratton an additional $9,020 in fees he incurred opposing the motion to reconsider.

Beck appealed.  He contends that our order on costs deprived the trial court of jurisdiction to entertain Stratton’s motion for appellate attorney fees.  He further argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to reconsider or clarify, in which he requested a more thorough explanation for the appellate attorney fee award.  We disagree and affirm.

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