The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has vacated an award of more than $105,000 in attorney’s fees to the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case, ruling that the District Court did not “adequately” account for the degree of success obtained when determining the award.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Gonzalez and Barba v Allied Collection Services can be accessed by clicking here.
The Appeals Court affirmed the other rulings made by the District Court judge, who awarded summary judgment to the plaintiffs, denied pre-trial motions from the defendant to impose sanctions, and denied pre-trial and post-trial motions from the defendant for attorney’s fees and costs.
The underlying case was an interesting one, because in the end, both sides claimed victory. While the District Court judge granted summary judgment for the plaintiff, the case still went to trial to determine whether the plaintiff was entitled to damages for emotional distress as well as statutory damages under the FDCPA. The jury determined the plaintiff was entitled to just statutory damages, but the judge reduced the award to $250. The judge then ordered the defendant to pay $105,820 in attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. That figure was too high, the Ninth Circuit ruled, saying the District Court judge abused her discretion.
“Although she succeeded in part at summary judgment, Gonzalez was unsuccessful at trial,” the Ninth Circuit wrote. “She sought damages for emotional distress, but the jury did not award those. The jury ‘advised’ the district court that Gonzalez be awarded $1,000 in statutory damages, but it did not have the power to award those damages. The award of fees for hours spent pursuing an unsuccessful result cannot be sustained.”