California Labor and Employment Defense Blog

Court Strikes Down Plaintiff's Attempt to Recover $46,000 In Attorney's Fees For $45 (rounded up) In Unpaid Wages

In Harrington v. Payroll Entertainment Services, Inc. (2008) __ Cal.App.4th __, Plaintiff brought suit against his employer for $44.63 in unpaid overtime, which was eventually settled for $10,500. After the settlement, the plaintiff (read the plaintiff’s lawyer) asked the trial court for about $46,000 for his attorneys’ fees. According to plaintiff, five lawyers and one paralegal worked on this case, with one lawyer billing 55.6 hours at $525 per hour, and another billing 67.15 hours at $275 per hour. The trial court denied the motion, and the plaintiff (read the plaintiff’s lawyer) appealed on the ground that he has a statutory right to recover his reasonable fees. The appellate court agreed, but in a scathing opinion only provided plaintiff $500 for his “reasonable” fees.

The appellate court stated:
It is as plain to us as it was to the trial court that, from the outset, this was a dispute about $44.63 and that it was not viable as a class action. It is equally plain that Harrington was underpaid as the result of an honest mistake made in reliance on a formula provided by his union, not based on any willful or knowingly wrongful conduct by PESI. (Cf. § 203.) At the risk of understatement, there is no way on earth this case justified the hours purportedly billed by Harrington’s lawyers.

We decline Harrington’s invitation to remand the matter to the trial court for its determination of a fee. The record is sufficient to allow us to make that determination, thereby saving the parties the additional fees and costs they would incur in refreshing the trial court’s recollection about this case, and avoiding any further expenditure of judicial resources. Given the nature of the dispute, the amount of the settlement, and the record on appeal, we are satisfied that the trial court could not reasonably award an amount in excess of $500, and thus fix the fee at that amount. (See PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1096; compare Chavez v. City of Los Angeles (2008) ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Feb. 22, 2008, B192375).)
The opinion can be read here.
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