Appellate Win – Warren v. Kia Motors America, Inc.

In the case of Warren v. Kia Motors America, Inc., the jury found Kia breached its express warranty for Ms. Warren’s vehicle willfully in violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and awarded $17,455.57 to Ms. Warren. This was no easy battle. Kia’s “‘aggressive’ and ‘scorched earth’ litigation tactics” necessitated the effort of several prominent California lemon-law firms. It was their combined efforts that produced the positive result for Ms. Warren. Thus, her counsel requested an award of attorneys’ fees and costs based on the $351,055.26 lodestar figure.

Yet, the trial court found a “disconnect” between the $351,055.26 lodestar and the $17,455.57 awarded to Ms. Warren. In the trial court’s eyes, the value of the plaintiff’s vehicle should dictate the attorneys’ fees awarded, and thus the value of the effort in pursuing a lemon-law action. Thus, the trial court “applied a negative multiplier of 33 percent” to the fees and costs requested, resulting in a fees-and-costs award of $115,848.24.

In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal disagreed, broadly holding “it is inappropriate and an abuse of a trial court’s discretion to tie an attorney fee award to the amount of the prevailing buyer/plaintiff’s damages or recovery in a Song-Beverly Act action, or pursuant to another consumer protection statute with a mandatory fee-shifting provision.” Phrased differently, under Warren, the value of the vehicle does not dictate the amount of attorneys’ fees and costs awarded.

The Court also reaffirmed the presumption that lodestar figures are accurate and imposed an affirmative obligation on trial courts to “clearly explain [their] case-specific reasons” for “percentage reduction[s]” to the lodestar figure, consistent with the Ninth Circuit’s earlier opinion in Moreno v. City of Sacramento (9th Cir. 2008) 534 F.3d 1106, 1112. According to the Court of Appeal, such reductions are subject to “heightened scrutiny.”

Additionally, the Court held the trial court erred in disallowing Ms. Warren’s claim for non-court-ordered trial transcripts. Although the transcripts were not in the appellate record, the Court explained, “[I]t is indisputable that Warren ‘reasonably incurred’ the $5,882 cost of the trial transcripts . . . . At the very least, Warren would have incurred additional expenses and great difficulty defending the [jury] award without the trial transcripts, in the event Kia challenged the jury award in posttrial proceedings or on appeal.”

Warren is just one example of our appellate work. If your client faced an adverse decision in an auto-fraud or lemon-law case and wishes to appeal, contact Rosner, Barry & Babbitt, LLP’s Appellate Department for a complimentary case evaluation.