The Court of Appeal Denies Request to
Recover Attorney Fees to Pro Per Law Firm Represented by its own Associate
By Matthew Clarke
Pro Per litigants who prevail may not recover attorney fees because no fees were actually “incurred.” Trope v. Katz (1995) 11 Cal.4th 274, 280. But a corporate litigant represented by in-house counsel may recover attorney fees, even at market rates. PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler (2000) 22 Cal.4th 1084, 1094.
An attorney who is sued over “personal” issues and represented by a partner in his law firm may recover attorney fees for services rendered by his or her partner. Gilbert v. Master Washer & Stamping Co., Inc. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 212, 221.
Taking it a step further, Gorman v. Tassajara Dev. Corp. (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 44, held that a partner who sues for construction defects occurring in his own home may recover attorney fees, even fees incurred by attorneys and paralegals in his own firm (Id. at 95-97).
In Carpenter & Zuckerman v. Paul Cohen, et al., 2nd App. Dist., Div. 5, B215544, May 5, 2011, the Court seemed to go in the opposite direction. In this case, Carpenter and Zuckerman were sued. An attorney (employee) in their firm filed an Anti-SLAPP motion and prevailed. The prevailing law partners and the law firm filed a motion to recover attorney fees, again represented by their attorney/employee. The trial court denied their motion to recover attorney fees, even though the anti-SLAPP motion was successful. Reviewing the case de novo, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of attorney fees.
The opinion, a real legal tap dance, is found at: https://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B215544.PDF
If you have questions about a request to recover attorney fees or anti-SLAPP motions, please contact us. We have experience in both of those subjects.