Despite Being a “Successful Party,” Real Party in Interest Denied Attorneys’ Fee Award by Fourth District

In Save our Heritage Organisation v. City of San Diego (2017) ___Cal App.5th___ (Case No. D070006), the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s denial of a Code of Civil Procedure section 1025.1 attorneys’ fee award to the prevailing real party in interest.

On the merits, the court of appeal found that the City of San Diego had not abused its discretion when it approved a revitalization project for Balboa Park. Real party then filed a motion in superior court for an award of attorney fees, which the court denied.

The Fourth District concluded that a real party’s status as a project proponent did not categorically bar it from obtaining a section 1025.1 attorney fees award where it otherwise satisfied the award’s requirements. Nevertheless, the court upheld the denial of the fee award to real party holding that petitioner was not the type of party on whom attorney fees were intended to be imposed. The court stated that attorney fees were typically only imposed on parties who had engaged in conduct that had adversely affected the public interest. The court found that the petitioner initiated litigation to correct what it perceived to be a violation by the city of state and local environmental, historic preservation, and land use laws, which did not compromise any important public rights. Rather, it was the type of enforcement action section 1021.5 was designed to promote. Thus, the court held that imposing a fee award on the petitioner would be inappropriate.