In Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions v. City of Healdsburg (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 988, certified for partial publication, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed an award of attorneys’ fees resulting from a successful CEQA challenge to a co-counsel attorney who was also a named party in the case.
Petitioners, Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions (HCSS), an organization of more than 100 members, challenged the adequacy of an EIR for a resort development. Grattan, a party to the suit and member of HCSS, participated as co-counsel to lead counsel Mansfield-Hewlett who represented petitioners. Petitioners successfully challenged the adequacy of an EIR and the court awarded them attorneys’ fees in the amount of $382,189.73.
Defendants appealed the award of attorneys’ fees on the ground that fees should not have been awarded to Grattan because she was a party to the suit. While the court acknowledged that attorneys who litigate in pro per are not entitled to attorneys’ fees, it reasoned Grattan acted more as a private attorney general and was therefore entitled to recover fees. In explaining its position, the court reasoned that Grattan formed a genuine attorney-client relationship with HCSS wherein her work independently benefitted the organization’s numerous members, not strictly her own interests. That being the case, Grattan qualified for attorneys’ fees under CEQA because she “was seeking to vindicate an important public interest in ensuring compliance with CEQA”.
An attorney who represents herself as well as an organization in a CEQA lawsuit is entitled to attorneys’ fees where she seeks to enforce CEQA compliance.
Written By: Tina Thomas, Chris Butcher and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
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