Chavez v. City of Los Angeles, 47 Cal. 4th 970 (2010)

Over the course of six years, Robert Chavez, a Los Angeles Police Department officer, and his wife filed multiple lawsuits against the LAPD and other members of the LAPD, alleging a variety of claims involving discrimination, harassment and retaliation. In this particular lawsuit, Chavez alleged the city and three of his supervisors had harassed, discriminated and retaliated against him based upon a perceived mental disability and for filing previous state and federal discrimination claims. The jury determined that Chavez’s protected activity was a motivating factor in the decision to rescind his transfer and awarded him $1,500 in lost wages and $10,000 for emotional distress. After the trial, Chavez’s attorney submitted a request for $871,000 in attorney’s fees incurred during five years of litigation against the city on Chavez’s behalf. Even though Chavez was technically the “prevailing party” in the litigation, the trial court denied the fee request on the ground that the court has discretion to deny fees and costs if the matter could have been but was not brought as a “limited civil case” in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $25,000. Although the court of appeal reversed on the ground that the limited civil case rules are inapplicable to a claim filed under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal and reinstated the trial court’s order denying the recovery of fees “in light of plaintiff’s minimal success and grossly inflated attorney fee request.”