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San Bernardino judge improperly applied attorney-fee award to lemon law recovery, appeal panel rules

By Karen Kidd | Dec 27, 2018

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A largely concluded lemon law case is on its way back to San Bernardino Superior Court after an appeals court panel found the lower court was wrong to apply a negative multiplier to the plaintiff's $500,000 request for attorney fees.

Plaintiff in the case, Shirlean Warren, failed to prove she is entitled to prejudgment interest on her jury award or that the lower court abused its discretion when it refused to award prejudgment interest, a California 4th District Court of Appeal, Division Two three-judge panel ruled.

In its 33-page opinion issued Dec. 12, the panel did agree that Warren should recover almost $5,900 her attorneys paid for trial transcripts.

"We also conclude the court abused its discretion in applying the 33 percent negative multiplier to Warren's requested lodestar attorney fees of $351,055," the appeals court's opinion said. "Part of the court's expressed purpose in applying the negative multiplier was to tie the attorney fee award to a proportion of Warren's modest damages award. This was error."


California 4th District Court of Appeal Justice Richard T. Fields   courts.ca.gov

The panel remanded the case to the San Bernardino court to determine a reasonable attorney fee award and to increase the cost award to cover the transcripts expenses.

Judge Richard T. Fields wrote the opinion in which judges Douglas P. Miller and Marsha G. Slough concurred.

Warren initially sued Kia Motors America Inc. under California's lemon law, the Song-Beverly Act, following her unsuccessful attempt to get the automotive manufacturer to buy back her 2010 Kia. San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John M. Pacheco later awarded Warren $17,000 in damages, which the Appeals Court opinion referred to as "modest," and a fee award of $115,000.

The fee amount award represented a 33-percent reduction of the $350,000 lodestar amount Warren sought.

Warren's request was for the loadstar amount to be multiplied by one-and-a-half.

In her appeal, Warren challenged the attorney fee award, in addition to her costs and expenses award, claiming the San Bernardino court abused its discretion in applying the negative multiplier, which erroneously limited her attorney fee. Warren also claimed he was entitled to prejudgment interest on her damages award.

"We conclude that Warren has not shown she was entitled to prejudgment interest on her jury award as a matter of right," the appeals court panel said in its opinion. "Nor has Warren shown that the court abused its discretion in refusing to award any prejudgment interest."

The appeals court did agree with Warren about the trial transcript expenses and about the negative multiplier the trial court applied.

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