A nonprofit organization (Association) and neighbor challenged the County of San Luis Obispo’s (County) approval of a church project, arguing that it failed to comply with CEQA. The church abandoned the project and the County rescinded its approval. The Association and neighbor then filed a motion for attorneys’ fees. The Superior Court denied the neighbor’s request and reduced the amount of fees requested by the Association. Both parties appealed to the Second District Court of Appeal, which reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case. The Appellate Court held that the administrative proceedings qualified as part of the “action,” allowing for an award of fees. The Court also found that the lower court did not act within its discretion when it considered the neighbor’s non-pecuniary interests when denying a request of fees. The Appellate Court remanded the case with directions for the trial court to only consider the neighbor’s pecuniary interests in evaluating whether attorney’s fees should be issued under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5.
Petitioners may recover attorneys’ fees for participation in the administrative process. Pecuniary interests of a petitioner, as opposed to non-pecuniary interests, may be used as a justification for denying fees sought pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5.