Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Landlord - Tenant
California Union Square L.P. v. Saks & Company LLC
Union Square owns the San Francisco building where Saks has operated a store since 1991. The lease's initial 25-year term was followed by successive options to renew; it mandates arbitration to determine Fair Market Rent for renewals. Section 3.1(c)(iv) states that “[e]ach party shall share equally the fees and expenses of the arbitrator. The attorneys’ fees and expenses of counsel for the respective parties and of witnesses shall be paid by the respective party engaging such counsel or calling such witnesses.” Section 23.10 permits a prevailing party to recover costs, expenses, and reasonable attorneys’ fees, “Should either party institute any action or proceeding to enforce this Lease ... or for damages by reason of any alleged breach ... or for a declaration of rights hereunder,The parties arbitrated a rent dispute in 2017. The trial court vacated the First Award, in favor of Union Square. To avoid re-arbitration, Union Square sought mandamus relief, which was summarily denied. While discussions concerning another arbitration were pending, Union Square filed a superior court motion to appoint the second arbitrator. The court-appointed arbitrator ruled in favor of Saks.The court of appeal affirmed the orders vacating the First Award and confirming the Second Award. Saks sought $1 million in attorneys’ fees for “litigation proceedings arising out of the arbitration,” not for the arbitrations themselves, citing Section 23.10. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. Each party agreed to bear its own attorneys’ fees for all proceedings related to settling any disagreement around Fair Market Rent under Section 3.1(c). View "California Union Square L.P. v. Saks & Company LLC" on Justia Law
Hom v. Petrou
Hom rented a San Francisco building to Entertainment for a restaurant. The lease allowed Entertainment to encumber its leasehold in favor of its lenders. A lender with an encumbrance could do anything required of Entertainment under the lease, foreclose on the leasehold, receive copies of notices, cure any breach by Entertainment, and enter into a new lease following any default by Entertainment; the parties were not allowed to modify or cancel the lease without the lender's consent. The lease stated that the prevailing party in any dispute is entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees. Entertainment later signed promissory notes with Lenders and pledged all of its assets as security. A dispute arose between Entertainment and Hom that resulted in litigation. Entertainment sued for breach of contract. Hom’s cross-complaint alleged that Lenders interfered with Hom’s ability to collect rent and evict Entertainment, that the loans were a sham.The court enforced a settlement between Hom and Entertainment, dismissing the cross-complaint with prejudice. Lenders sought attorney’s fees based on the lease. The court of appeal affirmed the award of approximately $150,000 in fees. Because the lease goes into such detail regarding lenders’ rights, it was reasonably foreseeable that disputes involving lenders would arise over those rights. It is natural to conclude that the landlord and tenant intended to give lenders the same rights to attorney’s fees as the direct parties. View "Hom v. Petrou" on Justia Law
Estate Administrative Services LLC v. Mohulamu
In this ejectment action, the Supreme Court granted Appellant's motion for in forma pauperis (IFP) status on appeal, vacated the Intermediate Court of Appeals' (ICA) order dismissing appeal, and remanded this case to the ICA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, holding that the ICA abused its discretion in ordering Appellant to file IFP motions in the district court, in denying Appellant's second IFP motion based on Haw. Rev. Stat. 607-3 and Haw. R. App. P. 24, and then in dismissing her appeal.Appellant, a self-represented defendant in a residential ejectment case, appealed a judgment and writ of possession filed by the district court. Appellant filed two motions to proceed IFP. The ICA denied both motions and ordered Appellant either to file an IFP motion in the district court within ten days or pay the filing fees in full. When Appellant did neither, the ICA dismissed Appellant's appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when courts have discretion in applying court rules or statutes, they must consider the access to justice principle of reducing barriers to the civil justice system for self-represented litigants. View "Estate Administrative Services LLC v. Mohulamu" on Justia Law
Hersey v. Vopava
Where an offeree achieves a judgment more favorable than a first offer, the determination of whether an offeree obtained a judgment more favorable than a second offer should include all costs reasonably incurred up to the date of the second offer. This case involved a landlord-tenant dispute which resulted in the tenant rejecting two offers to compromise from the landlord. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded the tenant damages less than the two offers to compromise. The trial court found that the Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers were reasonable and made in good faith; declared the landlord to be the prevailing party; and awarded him attorney fees.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court improperly calculated the "net" judgment to ascertain whether tenant had obtained a judgment more favorable than the section 998 offers. In this case, the trial court should have added her costs and attorney fees to the damages award to determine the correct "net" judgment. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's amended judgment incorporating the order and remanded for a determination of the amount of the tenant's reasonable costs. The court either declined to reach the tenant's remaining arguments or otherwise did not have jurisdiction to consider them. View "Hersey v. Vopava" on Justia Law
United Grand Corp. v. Malibu Hillbillies, LLC
This appeal stemmed from a civil action brought by United Grand to recover overdue rent from Malibu Hillbillies and its guarantor. After a default judgment, United Grand sought almost $2 million in attorney fees for its efforts to enforce the judgment against the guarantor. The trial court subsequently found that United Grand had engaged in extensive misconduct throughout the duration of the action and imposed a terminating sanction striking from the complaint United Grand's prayer for attorney fees. However, the trial court also entered judgment in favor of United Grand and against the guarantor in the amount of the unpaid rent and accrued interest she had already paid.The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of dismissal, the order dissolving the injunction and the order denying attorney fees on appeal. The court held that many of United Grand's claims were forfeited and the few cognizable claims of error were meritless. Finally, the court dismissed the appeal from the sanctions orders. View "United Grand Corp. v. Malibu Hillbillies, LLC" on Justia Law
Contreras v. Dowling
Contreras sued her landlords (Butterworth) and the Butterworths’ former attorneys based on their allegedly illegal entries into Contreras’s apartment. After attorney Dowling began representing the Butterworths, Contreras named him as a defendant. The trial court denied Dowling’s special motion to strike, ruling that Contreras’s action did not arise out of protected activity because she sought to hold him liable not for his activities as an attorney, but only for the underlying wrongful conduct of the Butterworths. Relying on opinions in the two prior appeals of the case, the court found Contreras had established a probability of prevailing on the merits. Finding Dowling’s motion frivolous, the granted Contreras’s motion for sanctions. The court of appeal reversed. Contreras’s claim against Dowling arises out of protected activity because the only actions Dowling himself is alleged to have taken are communicative acts by an attorney representing clients in litigation. Such acts are protected by Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. Bare allegations of aiding and abetting or conspiracy do not suffice to remove such acts from the statute's protection. Contreras cannot demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits because Dowling’s communicative acts are within the scope of the litigation privilege codified in Civil Code section 47(b). View "Contreras v. Dowling" on Justia Law
Hjelm v. Prometheus Real Estate Grp., Inc.
In 2011, the Hjelms leased an apartment in a large San Mateo complex from Prometheus. They signed the 24-page lease while still living in another state and without any negotiation. The lease had three one-sided provisions allowing Prometheus to recover attorney fees. Their apartment became infested with bedbugs, and the complex had an ongoing raw sewage problem. Ultimately the Hjelms and their children were forced to leave. The Hjelms sued Prometheus; a jury returned a verdict for them, awarding economic damage to the Hjelms in the amount of $11,652; non-economic damage to Christine Hjelm of $35,000; and non-economic damage to Justin Hjelm of $25,000. The trial court then awarded the Hjelms their attorney fees ($326, 475) based on Civil Code section 1717. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that a one-sided attorney’s fee provision violates Civil Code 1717(a). No challenge to the verdict could succeed and section 1717 does apply. View "Hjelm v. Prometheus Real Estate Grp., Inc." on Justia Law
Ingram, et al. v. Oroudjian, et al.
Appellants appealed the district court's order awarding them attorney fees following settlement of their claims against appellees brought under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619, and California law. At issue was whether the district court erred by deducting some of the hours billed and lowered the hourly rates requested by appellants. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion either by relying, in part, on its own knowledge and experience, or by setting an hourly rate of $350 for appellants' lawyers. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.