California Supreme Court Watch

Jun 23, 2021
Travis v. Brand, S268480.

#21-316 Travis v. Brand, S268480. (B298104, B301479; 62 Cal.App.5th 240; Los Angeles County Superior Court; BC665330.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment in a civil action. This case presents the following issue: Must a prevailing defendant in an action under the Political Reform Act of 1974 (Gov. Code, § 81000 et seq.) show that the case was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation in order to recover attorney fees?

Petition for review granted: 6/23/2021

Case fully briefed: 9/13/2021

Cause argued and submitted: 12/07/2022

Opinion filed: Judgment reversed: 1/30/2023

See the Court of Appeal Opinion.

See the Petition for Review.

See the Oral Argument.

See the California Supreme Court Opinion.  (Travis v. Brand (2023) 14 Cal.5th 411.)

“Several defendants were sued for their alleged failure to make certain required disclosures under the Political Reform Act of 1974 (Gov. Code, § 81000 et seq.). [Footnote omitted.] After prevailing in the lawsuit, defendants successfully sought attorney’s fees under section 91003, subdivision (a) (section 91003(a)), which grants trial courts discretion to award attorney’s fees ‘to a plaintiff or defendant who prevails.’ [Footnote omitted.] The question we address here is whether a trial court’s discretion to award fees to a prevailing defendant is coextensive with its discretion to award fees to a prevailing plaintiff. The text of the statute does not specify the standard that should govern an award of fees to either prevailing party. Nonetheless, in order to effectuate the purpose of encouraging private litigation enforcing the Political Reform Act, we interpret section 91003(a) to impose an asymmetrical standard, which constrains the trial court’s discretion to award attorney’s fees to a prevailing defendant. Consistent with the standard adopted in similar contexts, including the enforcement of civil rights and fair housing and employment laws, a prevailing defendant under the Political Reform Act ‘should not be awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the action was objectively without foundation when brought, or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.’ (Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire Dist. (2015) 61 Cal.4th 97, 115 (Williams).) Because the Court of Appeal affirmed an award of attorney’s fees under section 91003(a) in this case without first considering whether this standard had been met, we reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.”

Chief Justice Guerrero authored the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Corrigan, Liu, Kruger, Groban, Jenkins, and Cantil-Sakauye concurred.