Under California Supreme Court precedent, statutory provisions affecting recovery of attorney fees apply to pending litigation

Under California Supreme Court precedent, statutory provisions affecting the recovery of attorney fees apply to pending litigation.  In this case, the plaintiff, the defendant’s former employer, brought suit against the defendant, an individual, for breach of contract.  The defendant cross-complained for wage-related violations of the California Labor Code.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on both the complaint and the cross-complaint, and granted the plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees for having prevailed against the defendant’s wage claims.  In granting the fee motion, the trial court relied on the version of Labor Code section 218.5 that was in effect at the time of the summary judgment proceedings, although at the time of the fee award, a new version of section 218.5 had gone into effect.  The First Appellate District affirmed the summary judgment but reversed the attorney fee award and remanded, holding that the trial court erred in awarding the attorney fees under the older version of the statute.  California federal courts treat statutes affecting attorney fee awards as “chang[ing] the legal consequences of past conduct and substantially affect[ing] preexisting rights and obligations” and thus not applicable to pending litigation.  California state courts, however, have a long precedent of treating fee and cost eligibility statutes as “procedural” and “not at odds with the general presumption against retroactivity.”  [USS-POSCO Industries v. Case, (Cal. Ct. App. 2016) 16 C.D.O.S. 1025]

Categories: Legal Developments