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Vines v. O’Reilly Auto Enterprises (CA2/7 B327821 4/24/24) FEHA Statutory Attorneys’ Fees

By April 24, 2024June 30th, 2024Uncategorized

This appeal, the second in this litigation, is about interest on an award of statutory attorneys’ fees.  In particular, whether interest on the award runs from the first, later-reversed attorneys’ fees order or the second, post-remand attorneys’ fees order.  The answer depends on whether our opinion in the prior appeal was a modification (so that interest runs from the first order, which is what the prevailing plaintiff wants) or a reversal (so that interest runs from the second, which is what the defendant wants).

The line between modification and reversal, however, like that (for example) between a mandatory and prohibitory injunction, can be a little blurry.  Here, however, we can safely draw that line.  Our directions in the prior appeal required the trial court to do more than perform a pure mathematical computation or add or delete a category of fees; the trial court had to exercise its discretion to determine an appropriate award of attorneys’ fees.  Therefore, our prior opinion was a reversal, not a modification, which means interest runs from the second attorneys’ fees award.

The case arises out of an employment dispute.  Renee Vines sued his former employer, O’Reilly Auto Enterprises, LLC, for violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.), alleging causes of action for race- and age-based discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  A jury found in his favor on his causes of action for retaliation and failure to prevent retaliation, but against him on his other causes of action.  Although Vines asked for $253,417 in economic damages and $1.3 million to $2.3 million in non‑economic damages, the jury awarded him only $70,200.

Vines moved for $809,681.25 in statutory attorneys’ fees.  On September 9, 2019 the trial court granted the motion, but awarded only $129,540.44 in fees, based in part on the court’s determination Vines’s unsuccessful discrimination and harassment causes of action were not closely related to or factually intertwined with his successful retaliation causes of action.

Vines appealed, and we reversed.  We held the trial court erred in finding that, because the facts related to Vines’s (successful) retaliation causes of action arose after he complained about the discriminatory and harassing conduct, the (unsuccessful) discrimination and harassment causes of action were not related to the (successful) retaliation causes of action.  Therefore, we concluded, the trial court erred in ruling Vines was not entitled to recover any fees he incurred pursuing his discrimination and harassment causes of action.  (Vines v. O’Reilly Auto EnterprisesLLC (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 174, 185 (Vines I).)

On remand the trial court on June 29, 2022 awarded Vines $518,161.77 in fees.  O’Reilly paid the fee award, including postjudgment interest from June 29, 2022.  Vines’s attorneys, however, wanted more; specifically, they wanted interest on the attorneys’ fees award from September 9, 2019, not June 29, 2022, which amounted to an additional $138,454.44 in interest.

Rather than asking the court to enter an amended judgment that included the award of attorneys’ fees plus additional interest or seeking an order for additional interest, Vines applied for and obtained a renewal of the judgment in the amount of $138,454.44 (i.e., the additional interest).  O’Reilly filed a motion to vacate the renewal of judgment, which the trial court denied.

O’Reilly appeals from the order denying its motion to vacate the renewal of judgment, challenging only the amount of interest on the award of attorneys’ fees.  O’Reilly argues that, because our decision in Vines I was a reversal, not a modification, of the trial court’s September 9, 2019 order, interest on the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded should run from June 29, 2022, not September 9, 2019.  We agree with O’Reilly, reverse the order denying

O’Reilly’s motion to vacate the renewed judgment, and direct the trial court to grant the motion.