The Fourth District of the Court of Appeal (Orange County) Los Angeles) issued De La Cuesta v. Benhem (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 1287, on March 29, 2011, which held that a plaintiff that recovered 70% of what he claimed was a “prevailing party” and entitled to attorney’s fees. In a lawsuit regarding lease or other contract with an attorney’s fees clause, the “prevailing party” is entitled to an award of their attorney’s fees. However, because plaintiffs usually do not recover 100% of what they sued for, the trial judge is left with discretion as to whether the plaintiff was the “prevailing party” if it does not recover 100% of its claim.
This case was brought by a landlord against a tenant for unpaid rent. The trial court awarded the landlord 70% of what he claimed, the rent was reduced because there were 84 days when “the tenancy was affected by water leaks,” and “the affected area” was about 25 percent of the premises. Although the Court of Appeal held that the trial court had abused its discretion in not finding the landlord to be the prevailing party because results were so lopsided in terms of one party obtaining ‘greater relief’ than the other in comparative terms, the court refused to “fashion a one-size-fits-all rule” to determine how lopsided a result must be