Court of Appeal reverses attorney fee award imposed on GMSR’s clients

Cotton v. StarCare Medical Group, Inc. (2012) 2012 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 1782 (California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three) [unpublished]. GMSR’s clients, two Medicare-funded HMOs, are defendants in the underlying action alleging wrongful death and elder abuse. They had successfully demurred to plaintiffs’ claims on the ground, among others, that the plaintiffs’ state law claims against them were preempted by the federal Medicare Act. After the Court of Appeal disagreed and reinstated the plaintiffs’ claims, the trial court awarded substantial attorney fees under the private attorney general statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. It found that the plaintiffs were successful parties who had vindicated an important right and conferred a substantial benefit on the public. The Court of Appeal reversed, accepting GMSR’s argument that the plaintiffs were not successful parties within the meaning of section 1021.5, inasmuch as they had not obtained any of the relief sought by the action, but had only succeeded in reinstating their claims.