Ford Motor Hit With $50,574.19 Lemon Law Jury Verdict, And Then Hit Again With $342,540.25 In Fees As Well As Costs/Expenses On Top.
Many California consumer statutes, like the lemon laws, have mandatory fee-shifting statutes. Frequently, a winning plaintiff can obtain fee awards that are many times a multiplier of the underlying merits judgment.
That happened in Bettenhausen v. Ford Motor Co., Case No. C071978 (3d Dist. Apr. 1, 2014) (unpublished), where Ford Motor Co. was hit with a $50,574.19 lemon law jury verdict, $342,540.25 in fees (almost 7 times the jury verdict amount), and additional costs/expenses.
Ford made some mistakes in contesting the requested fees. It filed no written opposition, although the lower court allowed it to orally outline its opposition points. After the attorney fee order came out, Ford obtained new counsel (because prior counsel admitted his secretary had failed to file a written opposition while he was on vacation). New counsel appealed and then filed a motion to vacate, the latter motion denied because the trial judge ruled that the appeal notice divested him of further jurisdiction for purposes of adjudicating the motion.
As you can probably guess, Ford was not successful on appeal.
Here were the main problems: (1) no reporter’s transcript of the fee motion was provided, which made it difficult to assess the nature of Ford’s oral objections; (2) the lower court indeed had no jurisdiction to decide a motion to vacate after an appeal was filed, because the order vacating the fee award would have deemed a nullity; (3) Ford incorrectly argued that lodestar multiplier are not available in lemon law cases, something its own authority belied; and (4) plaintiff’s fee submissions showed justification for the requested hourly rates and .3 positive multiplier.
Some obvious lessons can be gleaned from this one, we think.
Ford Model T. 1921. Library of Congress.