Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lawyers Ruin Everything!

Dorsey v. Superior Court, No. D067836 (D4d1 Oct. 22, 2015)

You can’t have an attorney in a small claims case, but you can for the limited appeals that are allowed in one. In such an appeal, Code of Civil Procedure § 116.780(c) permits an award of an attorneys fee of up to $150$1,000 if the case is frivolous. But what happens when the small claims dispute involves a contract with an attorney fee provision? Can the prevailing parties get a reasonable fee, or are they limited to 150 bucks? The trial court in this case (in an appeal de novo in small claims, see § 116.770) awarded plaintiff $1,500 in a lease dispute, but added over $10 grand in under an attorneys’ fee provision in the lease. The court here grants a writ. It holds that, in light of the policy behind keeping small claims cheap, quick, simple, and fair, the $150 limit under § 116.780(c) trumps any attorney fee provisions the parties might have in their contract. Otherwise, fights over fees could readily eat up all the advantages of going to small claims in the first place.

Writ granted.

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