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Date: 06-29-2019

Case Style:

Sweetwater Union High School District v. Julian Union Elementary School District

Case Number: D073878

Judge: Nares, J.

Court: California Court of Appeals Fourth Appellate District, Division One on appeal from the Superior Court, County of San Diego

Plaintiff's Attorney: Blank Rome, Gregory M. Bordo, Christopher J. Petersen and Dustin Z. Moaven

Defendant's Attorney: Dannis Woliver Kelley, Sarah L.W. Sutherland and Keith A. Yeomans

Description:


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Julian Union Elementary School District (Julian) and Diego Plus Education
Corporation (Diego Plus) doing business as Diego Valley Public Charter (Diego Valley)
(together appellants) appeal an attorney fee award to Sweetwater Union High School
District (Sweetwater) made under Code of Civil Procedure1 section 1021.5. Appellants
assert that Sweetwater did not qualify as a successful party under section 1021.5 because
Sweetwater: (1) failed to achieve its primary litigation goal, (2) the relief it achieved was
illusory, and (3) its suit was not a catalyst in motivating either Julian or Diego Valley to
take or not take any particular action. Even assuming the trial court did not err in
awarding Sweetwater successful party status, appellants claim that Sweetwater was not
entitled to a fee award because Sweetwater failed to carry its burden of establishing all
requirements for a fee award under section 1021.5. Assuming we reject its other
arguments, appellants claim that the trial court abused its discretion by rubberstamping
the amount of attorney fees that Sweetwater requested. We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Sweetwater and Julian are public school districts in San Diego County, California.
Sweetwater provides educational services to over 40,000 students in several cities in San
Diego County, including Chula Vista and National City. Julian serves just over 300
students from preschool to eighth grade; it does not serve high school students.
Diego Plus operates the charter schools Diego Valley and Diego Springs Academy
(Diego Springs). Diego Plus pays fees to Julian for its Diego Valley charter school
program. Diego Springs operates resource centers at 2 North Euclid Avenue in National

1 Undesignated statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.
3
City (the National City facility) and at 310 Broadway in Chula Vista (the Chula Vista
facility). Both facilities are located within Sweetwater's school district boundaries.
In March 2015 Sweetwater sent letters to Julian and Diego Valley requesting that
they stop operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries. In June 2015, after
neither Julian nor Diego Valley responded, Sweetwater filed this action to enforce the
Charter Schools Act (CSA) (Ed. Code, § 47600 et seq.). In its petition for a writ of
mandate, Sweetwater alleged that Julian approved a charter petition for Diego Valley and
that Diego Valley has been operating charter schools outside Julian's geographic
boundaries.
On October 17, 2016, the third district filed its opinion in Anderson Union High
School Dist. v. Shasta Secondary Home School (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 262 (Anderson),
holding that the geographic limitations in the CSA apply to all charter schools, whether
classroom-based or nonclassroom-based, such as resource centers. (Id. at pp. 275-277.)
After Anderson, Sweetwater attempted to resolve the case through a stipulated judgment,
but appellants "rejected any efforts to settle" the litigation. Julian subsequently submitted
an application to the State Board of Education (SBE) requesting a waiver of the CSA's
geographic restrictions pursuant to Education Code section 33050. The waiver
application admitted that Julian had four resource centers that may be affected by the
Anderson opinion.
In March 2017 several Diego Valley students moved to intervene, alleging that
Sweetwater's lawsuit would deprive them of their constitutional right of access to a
4
quality public education.2 In April 2017 Sweetwater filed its motion for judgment,
asserting that Julian was allowing Diego Plus to open facilities outside Julian's school
district. Sweetwater argued that Anderson, supra, 4 Cal.App.5th 262, unequivocally
prohibited Diego Plus's operations and that Julian and Diego Valley sought to justify their
out-of-district operations under other exceptions to the CSA's location requirements.
In May 2017 Julian and Diego Plus filed opposition. Among other things, Diego
Plus argued that Diego Valley does not operate and has never operated within
Sweetwater's geographic boundaries. Among other things, Julian argued that Sweetwater
sued the wrong parties because the National City and Chula Vista facilities are operated
by Diego Springs. In May 2017 the SBE granted Julian's waiver application. The parties
submitted supplemental briefs addressing the impact, if any, of SBE's waiver on
Sweetwater's claims.
The trial court issued a tentative ruling, which it later affirmed after hearing the
parties' arguments. The court declined to issue a writ of mandate directing that Julian
revoke Diego Valley's charter, essentially concluding this form of relief would
unreasonably disrupt students. The court declared that Diego Valley's operation at the
National City and Chula Vista facilities "would be in violation of the Education Code"
and enjoined Diego Valley from operating both facilities.
Thereafter, Sweetwater moved for an attorney fees award under section 1021.5,
arguing, among other things, that its action acted as a catalyst for appellants' pursuit of

2 The trial court denied the claims of the intervening students. The students have
not appealed, and we will not address their claims.
5
the SBE waiver. The court granted the motion, finding that the requirements of section
1021.5 were satisfied, and awarded Sweetwater $166,027.05 in attorney fees. Appellants
timely appealed from the fee award, but did not appeal the order on the merits of
Sweetwater's claims.
DISCUSSION
I. SECTION 1021.5
"The Legislature adopted section 1021.5 as a codification of the private attorney
general doctrine of attorney fees developed in prior judicial decisions." (Maria P. v.
Riles (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1281, 1288.) "[T]he fundamental objective of the doctrine is to
encourage suits enforcing important public policies by providing substantial attorney fees
to successful litigants in such cases." (Id. at p. 1289.) "Due to the burdens imposed on
public agencies, adequate government enforcement of the laws is not always possible,
making private action imperative." (Hewlett v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp. (1997) 54
Cal.App.4th 499, 545 (Hewlett).)
"A court may award attorney fees under section 1021.5 only if the statute's
requirements are satisfied. Thus, a court may award fees only to 'a successful party' and
only if the action has 'resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the
public interest . . . .' [Citation.] Three additional conditions must also exist: '(a) a
significant benefit, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, has been conferred on the general
public or a large class of persons, (b) the necessity and financial burden of private
enforcement . . . are such as to make the award appropriate, and (c) such fees should not
6
in the interest of justice be paid out of the recovery, if any.' "3 (Vasquez v. State of
California (2008) 45 Cal.4th 243, 250-251 (Vasquez), quoting § 1021.5.)
The determination whether a party has met the requirement for an award of fees
and the reasonable amount of such an award are matters best decided by the trial court in
the first instance. (Hewlett, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at p. 544.) That court "must
realistically assess the litigation and determine from a practical perspective whether the
statutory criteria have been met." (Ibid.) We will uphold the trial court's decision to
award attorney fees under section 1021.5 unless the trial court abused its discretion.
(Graham v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. (2004) 34 Cal.4th 553, 578 (Graham).) In making
this determination we review the entire record, noting the trial court's stated reasons for
awarding fees and whether it applied the proper standards of law in reaching its decision.
(Hewlett, at p. 544.) Where, as here, litigation ends at the trial court level, we owe "the
trial court a full measure of deference in deciding whether the trial court abused its
discretion." (Los Angeles Police Protective League v. City of Los Angeles (1986) 188
Cal.App.3d 1, 8.) Thus, we will reverse the award "only if it is clearly wrong or has no
reasonable basis." (San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of San
Bernardino (1984) 155 Cal.App.3d 738, 754 (San Bernardino Valley).)
We review any factual findings by the trial court in connection with the ruling
under the substantial evidence standard. (Ellis v. Toshiba America Information Systems,

3 Subdivision (c) of section 1021.5, which requires that "such fees should not in the
interest of justice be paid out of the recovery, if any" is inapplicable here since
Sweetwater's action did not produce any monetary recovery.
7
Inc. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 853, 881.) Additionally, we apply a de novo review
" ' "where the determination of whether the criteria for an award of attorney fees and
costs in this context have been satisfied amounts to statutory construction and a question
of law." ' " (Conservatorship of Whitley (2010) 50 Cal.4th 1206, 1213 (Whitley).)
II. ANALYSIS
As a preliminary matter, we note that a trial court is "not required to issue a
statement of decision with regard to [a] fee award." (Ketchum v. Moses (2001) 24
Cal.4th 1122, 1140.) Here, the trial court expressly found that Sweetwater met all
elements for an award of fees under section 1021.5. We will not disturb the
determination absent a showing it is clearly wrong or there is no reasonable basis for the
award. (San Bernardino Valley, supra, 155 Cal.App.3d at p. 754.) "The pertinent
question is whether the grounds given by the court for its [grant] of an award are
consistent with the substantive law of section 1021.5 and, if so, whether their application
to the facts of this case is within the range of discretion conferred upon the trial courts
under section 1021.5, read in light of the purposes and policy of the statute." (City of
Sacramento v. Drew (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1287, 1298.)
We reject appellants' assertion that the de novo standard of review applies to our
review. Such review is only warranted where the determination of whether the criteria
for an award of attorney fees has been satisfied amounts to statutory construction and a
question of law. (Whitley, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 1213.) This is not such a case because
the trial court made no findings and provided no grounds for its conclusion to award fees.
We must presume that the trial court made all factual findings to support its order and
8
that the trial court was aware of and followed the applicable law. (Shaw v. County of
Santa Cruz (2008) 170 Cal.App.4th 229, 267; People v. Stowell (2003) 31 Cal.4th 1107,
1114.) " 'A judgment or order of the lower court is presumed correct. All intendments
and presumptions are indulged to support it on matters as to which the record is silent,
and error must be affirmatively shown. This is not only a general principle of appellate
practice but an ingredient of the constitutional doctrine of reversible error.' " (Denham v.
Superior Court (1970) 2 Cal.3d 557, 564.)
A. Sweetwater Qualified As a Successful Party
Appellants assert that Sweetwater did not qualify as a successful party under
section 1021.5 as a matter of law because: (1) it failed to achieve its primary goal, (2) the
relief granted by the trial court was illusory and inconsequential, and (3) its suit was not a
catalyst in motivating the actions of either Julian or Diego Valley. As we shall explain,
we reject this argument because Sweetwater obtained a judgment in its favor and
qualified as a successful party for this reason. Appellants' reliance on the catalyst theory
of recovery and cases pertaining to this theory are inapposite.
Under section 1021.5, "[a] 'successful party' means a 'prevailing' party." (Bowman
v. City of Berkeley (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 173, 178 (Bowman).) "It is settled, however,
that a party need not prevail on every claim presented in an action in order to be
considered a successful party within the meaning of the section." (Wallace v. Consumers
Cooperative of Berkeley, Inc. (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 836, 846 (Wallace).) A party who
" ' " 'succeed[s] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit
the parties sought in bringing suit' " ' " (Bowman, at p. 178, italics omitted) may be
9
considered a prevailing party "for attorney's fees purposes." (Ibid.) "The significance of
the . . . issue was a matter for the trial court's judgment." (Ibid.)
Here, appellants argued to the trial court that Sweetwater failed to achieve its
primary litigation goal and that the minimal relief it obtained was different than
requested, had no impact on Diego Plus, and was not the catalyst for Diego Plus taking
any action. The trial court necessarily rejected these arguments.
The prayer in Sweetwater's petition requested that a peremptory writ of mandate
issue to Julian to: (1) set aside Diego Valley's charter, (2) discharge its oversight duties
over Diego Valley, (3) refrain from approving charter schools operating outside Julian's
geographic boundaries, and (4) revoke Diego Valley's charter and prohibit Diego Valley
from operating charter schools in violation of the charter and the law. It requested that a
peremptory writ of mandate issue to Diego Valley to: (1) submit a legally sufficient
charter petition complying with the requirements of the CSA, including submission to the
school district(s) in which it proposes to operate; and (2) with respect to location of its
charter school(s), strictly comply with the location and notice provisions of the CSA by
following the requisite process outlined in Education Code sections 47605 and 47605.1.
Sweetwater requested declaratory relief stating that the operation of a charter
school by Diego Valley outside of Julian's geographic boundaries violated the CSA and
that Julian thus had a ministerial duty to revoke Diego Valley's charter. Sweetwater also
requested injunctive relief to preclude the opening and operation of a proposed resource
center in National City and precluding Julian and Diego Valley from taking further action
in violation of the law.
10
Before trial, the court issued a tentative ruling. After trial, the court adopted its
tentative ruling. The trial court's tentative ruling concluded that Diego Valley and Diego
Springs were not separate legal entities, but fictitious business names of Diego Plus. It
concluded that Diego Plus operated the National City and Chula Vista facilities through
Diego Valley. It found that Diego Plus was not granted a waiver to operate either
facility, "[t]herefore the operation through Diego Valley at these two facilities would be
in violation of the Education Code and [Anderson, supra,] 4 Cal.App.5th 262." (Italics
added.) The court, however, denied Sweetwater's petition for writ of mandate finding, in
part, that ordering compliance with the law to be "superfluous." The court issued a
declaration that Diego Valley's operation at the National City and Chula Vista facilities
"would be in violation the Education Code" (italics added) and granted injunctive relief
prohibiting Diego Valley from operating both facilities.
Appellants contend that Sweetwater is not a successful party for purposes of an
attorney fee award under section 1021.5 because Sweetwater did not prevail on any of its
claims as to Julian. Appellants are correct that Sweetwater did not prevail on any of its
claims as to Julian, an argument Julian made to the trial court. The trial court likely
rejected this argument, however, because it ignores settled law that a party need not
prevail on every claim to be considered a successful party under section 1021.5.
(Wallace, supra, 170 Cal.App.3d at p. 846; Bowman, supra, 131 Cal.App.4th at p. 177.)
Rather, partial success is a factor to be considered by the trial court in determining the
amount of fees awarded. (Wallace, at pp. 846-847.) Moreover, CCP section 1021.5
allows attorney fees to be recovered against "opposing parties," meaning "a party whose
11
position in the litigation was adverse to that of the prevailing party." (Nestande v.
Watson (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 232, 240-241.) A finding of fault or misconduct by the
opposing party is not required. (Mejia v City of Los Angeles (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 151,
161 (Mejia).) Julian qualified as an opposing party liable for an attorney fee award under
section 1021.5. Although Julian could have asked the trial court to apportion the fee
award, it did not make such a request and the trial court found appellants jointly and
severally liable. (See, e.g., Mejia, at p. 156 [fees assessed 50 percent against city, 50
percent against real party in interest].)
Appellants next assert that Sweetwater does not qualify as a successful party
because the declaratory and injunctive relief awarded by the trial court was illusory and
inconsequential. Appellants' argument is based on the wording of the trial court's
tentative ruling, which stated:
"As to the second cause of action, the operation of Diego Valley at
the National City Facility and the Chula Vista Facility would be in
violation of the Education Code, therefore Sweetwater is entitled to
declaratory relief in that regard. Sweetwater is also entitled to
injunctive relief prohibiting Diego Plus from operating as Diego
Valley at the National City Facility and Chula Vista Facility.
Sweetwater's request for declaratory and injunctive relief is therefore
granted." (Italics added.)
Appellants contend that the trial court phrased its order in the subjunctive because
Sweetwater failed to establish that Diego Valley ever operated at either the National City
facility or the Chula Vista facility and that the court fashioned unnecessary relief. The
record shows that one of the primary factual disputes before the trial court was whether
appellants were operating within Sweetwater's geographical boundaries. Sweetwater
12
argued to the trial court that Diego Plus, through Diego Valley and Diego Springs,
operated both the National City and the Chula Vista facilities, whereas appellants argued
that Diego Valley does not operate and has never operated within Sweetwater's
geographic boundaries. Julian specifically argued to the trial court that declaratory relief
must be denied because Diego Valley was not operating within Sweetwater's geographic
boundaries; thus, there was no actual controversy between the parties and a declaratory
judgment would merely offer advice on hypothetical facts.
To qualify for declaratory relief under section 1060 a plaintiff must show its action
is a proper subject of declaratory relief and that an actual controversy exists involving
justiciable questions relating to the rights or obligations of a party. (Brownfield v. Daniel
Freeman Marina Hospital (1989) 208 Cal.App.3d 405, 410 (Brownfield).) "The 'actual
controversy' requirement concerns the existence of present controversy relating to the
legal rights and duties of the respective parties pursuant to contract [§ 1060], statute or
order." (Ibid.)
As Julian correctly noted in its arguments to the trial court, declaratory relief is not
appropriate where a controversy is "conjectural, anticipated to occur in the future, or an
attempt to obtain an advisory opinion from the court." (Brownfield, supra, 208
Cal.App.3d at p. 410.) Here, the trial court necessarily rejected appellants' factual
arguments that Diego Plus was not operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries
finding that (1) Diego Plus operated the two facilities through Diego Valley, and (2)
Sweetwater was "entitled to" both declaratory and injunctive relief and "grant[ing]" of
such relief. The trial court's statement that operation of the two facilities "would be in
13
violation of the Education Code" (rather than stating "is" a violation) created an
ambiguity. The parties, however, did not object to the court's ruling or request
clarification or additions. Appellants also did not appeal from the court's ruling on
Sweetwater's petition and the propriety of that ruling is not before us.4
In opposing Sweetwater's request for an attorney fee award, Diego Plus argued
that the phrasing of the trial court's tentative ruling shows it rejected Sweetwater's
argument that Diego Plus was operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries. The
trial court necessarily rejected this argument by impliedly finding that Sweetwater
qualified as a successful party under section 1021.5 and awarding it fees. The court's

4 Upon a party's timely and proper request, a trial court must issue a statement of
decision upon "the trial of a question of fact by the court." (§ 632.) The statement must
explain "the factual and legal basis for [the court's] decision as to each of the principal
controverted issues at trial . . . ." (Ibid.) In trials completed in one calendar day, a
request for statement of decision must be made before the matter is submitted for
decision. (Ibid.) "The statement of decision provides the trial court's reasoning on
disputed issues and is our touchstone to determine whether or not the trial court's decision
is supported by the facts and the law." (Slavin v. Borinstein (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 713,
718.) A request for a statement of decision allows the trial court to review its
memorandum of intended decision and "to make . . . corrections, additions, or deletions it
deems necessary or appropriate." (Miramar Hotel Corp. v. Frank B. Hall & Co. (1985)
163 Cal.App.3d 1126, 1129.)
Appellants do not claim that they timely requested a statement of decision and we
have not found such a request. Additionally, although a trial court may state that its
tentative decision is the court's proposed statement of decision or direct that the tentative
decision shall be the statement of decision, the trial court did not choose either of these
options. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.1590(c)(1) & (4).) The trial court's tentative ruling
is no substitute for a statement of decision. While we may examine a trial court's
tentative or memorandum decision to help interpret its findings and conclusions, the
function of a memorandum decision on appellate review is very limited and a
memorandum opinion "will not be used in determining whether or not the . . . findings of
the court are supported by the evidence." (Balding v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. Co. (1964)
225 Cal.App.2d 254, 258.)
14
tentative ruling on Sweetwater's petition supports this implied finding because it shows
that the trial court found Sweetwater "entitled to" both declaratory and injunctive relief.
The declaratory and injunctive relief granted by the trial court changed the legal
relationship between the parties. Traditional (noncatalyst) success requires the claimant
to prevail by obtaining " 'a judicially recognized change in the legal relationship between
the parties.' " (Tipton-Whittingham v. City of Los Angeles (2004) 34 Cal.4th 604, 608
(Tipton).) The trial court could have reasonably concluded that the relief it granted
qualified Sweetwater as the successful party in the litigation. In this situation, the trial
court did not need to rely on a "catalyst theory" which permits a trial court to award fees
under section 1021.5 without a judicial resolution of the litigation if the defendant
changes its behavior substantially because of, and in the manner sought by, the litigation.
(Graham, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 560.)
Because the record supports a conclusion that the trial court found Sweetwater to
be a successful party in the traditional (noncatalyst) sense, there is no need for us to
address appellants' argument, and cited authorities, that Sweetwater did not accomplish
its primary litigation aim because this inquiry is relevant only in catalyst cases. (Lyons v.
Chinese Hospital Assn. (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1346 ["[T]rial court's conclusion
that [party] could not be considered a successful party because he did not accomplish his
'primary' litigation aim 'is based on language in "catalyst" cases, where the issue is
whether a party who has not obtained any judicial relief is nevertheless entitled to
fees."].)
15
In any event, even assuming the trial court found Sweetwater to be a successful
party under a catalyst theory, the record supports Sweetwater's entitlement to successful
party status under this theory. Under the catalyst theory, plaintiffs may be considered to
be the prevailing party when they achieve their litigation objectives, even though they
succeed "by means of [the] defendant's 'voluntary' change in response to the litigation,"
rather than by means of a final judgment." (Graham, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 572.) To
constitute a successful party under the catalyst theory, "a plaintiff must establish that (1)
the lawsuit was a catalyst motivating the [defendant] to provide the primary relief sought;
(2) that the lawsuit had merit and achieved its catalytic effect by threat of victory, not by
dint of nuisance and threat of expense . . . ; and (3) that the [plaintiff] reasonably
attempted to settle the litigation prior to filing the lawsuit." (Tipton, supra, 34 Cal.4th at
p. 608.)
Sweetwater's petition makes clear that its central grievance was appellants'
operation of charter schools within its geographic boundaries.5 The trial court could
have reasonably concluded that Sweetwater's primary goal in this action was to compel
appellants' compliance with the geographic requirements in the CSA. "To satisfy the
causation prong of the catalyst theory, the plaintiff need not show the 'litigation [was] the
only cause of defendant's acquiescence. Rather, [the] litigation need only be a substantial
factor contributing to defendant's action." (Cates v. Chiang (2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 791,
807.) The trial court could have reasonably concluded that this action was the catalyst in

5 Appellants do not dispute that Sweetwater tried to settle this litigation.
16
motivating appellants' pursuit of waivers from the SBE and that these waivers mooted
Sweetwater's mandamus claims. Accordingly, even under a catalyst theory of recovery,
the trial court would not have erred in finding Sweetwater to be the successful party.6
For the first time in its reply brief, appellants argue that Sweetwater is not a
successful party because it obtained no relief as to Diego Valley and Diego Springs.
Generally, arguments raised for the first time in a reply brief are forfeited. (In re
Marriage of Khera & Sameer (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 1467, 1477 [" 'Obvious reasons of
fairness militate against consideration of an issue raised initially in the reply brief of an
appellant.' "].) Nonetheless, we exercise our discretion to address this argument because
it is easily resolved. As appellants note, Diego Valley and Diego Springs are separate
charter schools and are not defendants to this action. However, Diego Plus is a defendant
and the trial court found that Diego Valley and Diego Springs were not separate legal
entities, but fictitious business names of Diego Plus. "Use of a fictitious business name[,
however,] does not create a separate legal entity . . . ' " . . . distinct from the person
operating the business." ' " (Pinkerton's Inc. v. Superior Court (1996) 49 Cal.App.4th
1342, 1348, italics omitted.) If Diego Valley and Diego Springs are merely fictitious
business names under which Diego Plus operated, then Diego Valley and Diego Springs
could not even be named as defendants—they are not legal entities. Thus, by granting

6 Sweetwater's request for judicial notice of documents showing the closure of
Diego Springs and Diego Valley is denied. These closures occurred after the trial court
made its fee award. We generally do not take judicial notice of evidence not presented to
the trial court. (Vons Companies, Inc. v. Seabest Foods, Inc. (1996) 14 Cal.4th 434, 444,
fn. 3.)
17
declaratory and injunctive relief against Diego Plus, the court granted relief as against the
fictitious business names under which Diego Plus operated.
B. Sweetwater Satisfied the Remaining Section 1021.5 Criteria
Even if the trial court did not err in determining that Sweetwater was a successful
party, appellants claim that Sweetwater failed to establish that its action (1) sought to
enforce an important right affecting the public interest, (2) conferred a significant benefit
on the general public or a large class of persons, and (3) was not necessary or
burdensome enough to warrant an award of attorney fees. (Vasquez, supra, 45 Cal.4th at
pp. 250-251.) We address the challenged criterion in turn.
1. Enforcement of important right affecting public interest
Appellants contend that this action did not enforce the right of children to receive
a public education, any constitutional rights, or any other important public right. They
again assert that "the trial did not hold that either Diego Valley or Julian violated any law,
but rather that only Diego Valley had the potential to do so." Appellants reason that
since they "neither acted nor failed to act in such a way as to violate or compromise an
important right as to require enforcement through litigation, Sweetwater cannot be found
to have 'enforced' any right by way of its litigation."
Sweetwater notes that the Legislature added the geographic restrictions to the CSA
to improve charter school oversight which is critical to the constitutionality of charter
schools and the CSA. By operating illegally outside Julian's district boundaries,
Sweetwater contends that "Diego Plus circumvents all local input and any meaningful
oversight by a financially interested authorizer." Sweetwater argues that "[o]ut of district
18
charter school operation leaves public charter schools unaccountable to the communities
they serve who: (1) are often unable to attend the board meetings held by distant and
remote school districts; and (2) cannot vote or run as a candidate in the election of board
members responsible for controlling the distant charter schools. Also, the diversion of
funds to illegally authorized charter schools is a drain on limited public education funds."
Sweetwater maintains that halting appellants' illegal charter school operations furthers
these important public interests.
In determining whether the right vindicated in a particular case is sufficiently
important to justify a fee award, courts must "exercise judgment in attempting to
ascertain the 'strength' or 'societal importance' of the right involved" (Woodland Hills
Residents Assn, Inc. v. City Council (1979) 23 Cal.3d 917, 935 (Woodland Hills)) and
"should generally realistically assess the significance of that right in terms of its
relationship to the achievement of fundamental legislative goals." (Id. at p. 936.) Courts
have broadly interpreted the important right concept and "frequently reject attempts to
characterize rights in their most narrow or personal light." (Pearl, Cal. Attorney Fee
Awards (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed. 2019) § 3.40, p. 3-14.)
In Woodland Hills, the plaintiffs prevailed on a procedural rather than substantive
basis and sought attorney fees under section 1021.5. (Woodland Hills, supra, 23 Cal.3d
at p. 937.) The Supreme Court rejected defendant's contention that complying with a
technical requirement "does not rise to the level of an 'important right' for purposes of
section 1021.5." (Ibid.) Our high court noted that "the fact that a plaintiff is able to win
his case on a 'preliminary' issue, thereby obviating the adjudication of a theoretically
19
more 'important' right, should not necessarily foreclose the plaintiff from obtaining
attorney fees under a statutory provision." (Id. at p. 938.) The court explained that "it
would be both unfair and contrary to the legislative purpose of section 1021.5 to deprive
a plaintiff of attorney fees simply because the court decides the case in plaintiff's favor on
a 'simpler' or less 'important' theory." (Ibid.) Rather, when a plaintiff prevails on a
preliminary issue, a "trial court, utilizing its traditional equitable discretion (now codified
in § 1021.5), must realistically assess the litigation and determine, from a practical
perspective, whether or not the action served to vindicate an important right so as to
justify an attorney fee award." (Ibid.) This rationale applies here.
California's Constitution guarantees a free public education, established through
"a system of common schools." (Cal. Const., art. IX, § 5.) Charter schools are part of
this public system of common schools (Ed. Code, §§ 47601, 47615, subd. (a)(1)), but are
"strictly creatures of statute. From how charter schools come into being, to who attends
and who can teach, to how they are governed and structured, to funding, accountability
and evaluation—the Legislature has plotted all aspects of their existence." (Wilson v.
State Bd. of Education (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 1125, 1135.) "Once approved, charter
schools are operated independently, but are subject to public oversight. [Citations.] Such
public 'control and oversight . . . legitimize[s] charter schools' [citation] and arguably is
constitutionally necessary." (Today's Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of
Education (2013) 57 Cal.4th 197, 206 (Today's Fresh).) Charter schools have a
"complicated relationship with other public schools. 'Obviously charter schools are not in
opposition to the public school system. On the contrary, they are a part of that system.'
20
[Citation.] Nevertheless, 'charter schools compete with traditional public schools for
students, and they receive funding based on the number of students they recruit and retain
at the expense of the traditional system.' " (Id. at pp. 206-207.)
Legislative history materials show that the issue of where charter schools would
operate has been an issue since the inception of the CSA. The legislative counsel noted
that despite "the lack of any explicit authorization for a school district governing board to
approve the charter of a school that would operate outside the district, . . . this is a
common practice among charter schools." (Sen. Com. on Education., Analysis of Assem.
Bill No. 1994 (2001-2002 Reg. Sess.) June 25, 2001.) The lack of geographic restrictions
on charter school operations resulted in school districts approving charter schools for a
"bounty." (Sen. Com. on Education, Staff Rep. on Assem. Bill No. 1994 (2001-2002
Reg. Sess.) In one case, "the charter was charged a percentage of their revenue limit, on
the average of 15%, in exchange for the [charter] authorization." (Ibid.)
In 2002 the Legislature amended the CSA to add "stringent geographical
restrictions for the operation of charter schools." (California School Bds. Assn. v. State
Bd. of Education (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 1298, 1307 (California School).) "The impetus
behind those amendments, which were sponsored by the State Superintendent of Public
Instruction, was explained in an analysis prepared for the Senate Committee on
Education. 'The [State Board] has in practice allowed single charters to be used to
authorize the operation of multiple school sites, which are called "satellites" of the
charter. Satellites have often operated at considerable distance from the "home" charter.
Early this year the Gateway Charter School, chartered by the Fresno Unified School
21
District, was the subject of several newspaper articles and an ongoing law enforcement
investigation, concerning allegations that satellites of the Gateway School were operating
in violation of several laws. Gateway's charter was revoked by the district governing
board who cited the difficulties of keeping track of remote (satellite) operations as a
reason why various anomalies were not discovered sooner.' [Citation.] As stated in a
comment to another analysis, '[b]y placing a geographic restriction on a charter school's
operations, this bill would help clarify a district's sovereignty over public education
provided within its boundaries and [would] enhance oversight of charter schools.' " (Id.
at pp. 1307-1308.)
Charter schools must now be located within the boundaries of the school districts
where they are chartered, with limited exceptions. (California School, supra, 186
Cal.App.4th at p. 1308; see Ed. Code, §§ 47605, subd. (a)(1), 47605.1.) Specifically,
Education Code section 47605, subdivision (a)(1) provides: "A petition for the
establishment of a charter school shall identify a single charter school that will operate
within the geographic boundaries of that school district. A charter school may propose to
operate at multiple sites within the school district if each location is identified in the
charter school petition." The Anderson court interpreted this language as applying to "all
charter schools whether classroom-based or nonclassroom-based." (Anderson, supra, 4
Cal.App.5th at p. 277.) Additionally, the in-district geographic boundary limitation
"appl[ies] to the operation of the charter school" including locations, such as resource
centers, that provide educational support to charter school students. (Id. at p. 276.)
22
In awarding fees under section 1021.5 the trial court impliedly found that
Sweetwater's action enforced an important right affecting the public interest. We cannot
conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in making this finding. "The chartering
of a school and the charter school's compliance with the law, the regulations, and the
conditions imposed on its charter can be matters of serious concern to the public and to
our public school system." (California School, supra, 186 Cal.App.4th at p. 1326.)
"[P]ublic 'control and oversight . . . legitimize[s] charter schools' . . . ." (Today's Fresh,
supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 206.) "If monitoring and enforcement are, in reality, either lax or
nonexistent, then the entire statutory scheme governing charter schools is called into
question." (California School, at p. 1326.)
Here, the trial court found that Diego Plus operated within Sweetwater's
geographic boundaries and ordered that this practice stop. In view of the foregoing
authorities, the trial court could have reasonably found that requiring compliance with the
geographic boundary requirements of the CSA enforced an important right affecting the
public interest.
2. Significant public benefit
Appellants contend that the prospective declaratory and injunctive relief granted
by the trial court provides no significant benefit to Sweetwater, Sweetwater's constituents
or anyone else. They claim that Sweetwater is the only potential beneficiary of this
action and that such self-serving litigation does not warrant an award of attorney fees.
An award of attorney fees to the prevailing party is justified in an action if "a
significant benefit, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, has been conferred on the general
23
public or a large class of persons." (§ 1021.5, subd. (a).) " '[T]he "significant benefit"
that will justify an attorney fee award need not represent a "tangible" asset or a "concrete"
gain but, in some cases, may be recognized simply from the effectuation of a fundamental
constitutional or statutory policy.' [Citation.] The benefit may be conceptual or doctrinal
[citation], and the California Supreme Court has recognized that 'the litigation underlying
the section 1021.5 award can involve rights or benefits that are somewhat intangible.' "
(Environmental Protection Information Center v. Department of Forestry & Fire
Protection (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 217, 233.) "The fact that litigation enforces existing
rights does not mean that a substantial benefit to the public cannot result. Attorney fees
have consistently been awarded for the enforcement of well-defined, existing
obligations." (Press v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1983) 34 Cal.3d 311, 318.) "The 'extent of the
public benefit need not be great to justify an attorney fee award' " under section 1021.5.
(Center for Biological Diversity v. County of San Bernardino (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th
866, 894.) Nor is it required that the class of persons benefited be " 'readily
ascertainable.' " (Northwest Energetic Services, LLC v. California Franchise Tax Bd.
(2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 841, 876, fn. 19.)
Here, the trial court could have reasonably concluded that Sweetwater's action
advanced the public's interest in the lawful operation of charter schools and the
Legislature's oversight objectives reflected in the CSA's location requirements. Even
more broadly, the trial court could have found that through this action Sweetwater has
helped preserve the constitutionality of charter schools within the public education
24
system. The trial court could have reasonably concluded that advancement of these
objectives conferred a significant benefit on the general public.
3. Necessity and Financial Burden of Private Enforcement
The necessity and financial burden requirement " ' "examines two issues: whether
private enforcement was necessary and whether the financial burden of private
enforcement warrants subsidizing the successful party's attorneys." ' " (Whitley, supra,
50 Cal.4th at p. 1214.) Where, as here, the action is between two public entities
(Sweetwater and Julian), the question is the necessity of "enforcement by one public
entity against another public entity." (§ 1021.5.) Appellants argue this action was not
necessary because it resulted in a ruling regarding Diego Valley's "hypothetical future
actions which 'would be in violation of the [CSA].' " Given that Sweetwater obtained no
practical relief, appellants reason that the trial court clearly erred in finding this action
necessary. Appellants are mistaken in analyzing this element.
The necessity of private enforcement element of the section 1021.5 analysis
requires courts to consider only one fact—the availability of public enforcement.
(Whitley, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 1217.) Here, because Sweetwater and Julian were public
entities, the trial court could have reasonably concluded that this action was necessary to
enforce compliance with the CSA.
We next consider the financial burdens and incentives involved in bringing the
lawsuit. (Whitley, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 1215.) This inquiry examines "the costs of the
litigation [and] any offsetting financial benefits that the litigation yields or reasonably
could have been expected to yield." (Ibid.) This cost-benefit analysis seeks to determine
25
whether the financial burden of the lawsuit was out of proportion to the plaintiffs'
individual stake in the matter. (Ibid.) Our high court noted that "courts have quite
logically focused not only on the costs of the litigation but also any offsetting financial
benefits that the litigation yields or reasonably could have been expected to yield."
(Ibid.)
"[T]he absence of a monetary award, or of precise amounts attached to financial
incentives, does not prevent a court from determining whether the plaintiff's financial
burden in pursuing the lawsuit is ' " 'out of proportion to his individual stake in the
matter.' " ' " (Summit Media, LLC v. City of Los Angeles (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 171,
193.) No abuse in awarding fees can be found where the facts show "that the plaintiff's
'future money advantage . . . is speculative' [citation], or that the plaintiff's' ' "pecuniary
benefit will be indirect and uncertain." ' " (Ibid.)
Appellants claim that the trial court's order accomplished one thing, the
elimination of Sweetwater's competition for average daily attendance per-student funding
(ADA funding). Because of this, appellants argue that Sweetwater failed to meet its
burden of establishing that the cost of litigation transcended its expected personal
financial stake in the increased ADA funding it expected to receive at the outset of this
litigation. Appellants note that for the academic year of 2017-2018, Sweetwater
estimated that it would receive over $9,500 per student per year. Accordingly,
Sweetwater would only have to enroll or re-enroll 20 students for just one academic year
to equal the amount of its fees in this action.
26
Sweetwater asserts that appellants' argument "grossly mischaracterize[s] school
district accounting by ignoring offsetting educational costs and relying on assumptions
about hypothetical student transfers unsupported by any part of the appellate record."
Sweetwater contends that a more accurate review of school district accounting compares
total revenue and total expenditures. We agree with Sweetwater.
Sweetwater concedes that ADA funding is directly tied to student enrollment,
which correlates to revenue. It points out, however, that while its proposed budget for the
2017-2018 school year reflects $453,861,354 in total revenue, total expenditures amount
to $453,166,553, for a net revenue of $694,801. Sweetwater presented evidence that it
serves "over 40,000 students." Accepting appellants' student worth theory, Sweetwater
points out that this amounts to approximately $17 in net revenue per student.
In contrast, Diego Valley enrolled 686 students throughout San Diego county.
Even assuming all these students were eligible to enroll in Sweetwater schools, and that
they did enroll, this amounts to a trivial financial gain for Sweetwater. The record
supports the trial court's implied conclusion that Sweetwater's personal financial stake in
this litigation was insufficient to warrant its decision to incur significant attorney fees and
costs in the prosecution of this action.
Finally, appellants contend that Sweetwater is disqualified from receiving a
section 1021.5 fee award because its petition contained a prayer for damages. This
argument is forfeited because it was not raised below, in appellants' opening briefing, nor
is it supported with a citation to authority. (In re Marriage of Khera & Sameer, supra,
206 Cal.App.4th at p. 1477; Roe v. McDonald's Corp. (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 1107,
27
1114 [issue raised without citation to authority requires no discussion]; Ochoa v. Pacific
Gas & Electric Co. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1480, 1488, fn. 3 ["arguments not asserted
below are waived and will not be considered for the first time on appeal"].)
In any event, we reject this argument on the merits. Our independent research has
uncovered no support for appellants' contention. Additionally, we note that Sweetwater's
prayer contained a boilerplate request "[f]or such damages and other and further relief as
the Court deems just and proper." Sweetwater, however, did not request damages in its
briefing to the trial court, nor did it request damages in its argument at trial. Accordingly,
we are not convinced that the trial court abused its discretion in impliedly finding that the
financial burden of private enforcement warranted subsidizing Sweetwater's attorneys.
In summary, we conclude that appellants have not shown that the trial court
committed factual or legal error, or otherwise abused its discretion, in determining that
the statutory criteria had been satisfied. Accordingly, we conclude that Sweetwater was
entitled to an award of attorney fees and proceed to the parties' arguments about the
amount of the fees awarded.
C. No Abuse of Discretion in Awarding Fees
Sweetwater sought $163,728.50 in attorney fees. In support of its request,
Sweetwater filed declarations prepared by three attorneys itemizing the hourly rate and
work performed on a categorical basis. The trial court awarded Sweetwater $163,728.05
in attorney fees, jointly and severally against Julian and Diego Plus.
Determination of the amount of an attorney fees award under section 1021.5
begins with the calculation of a lodestar figure. (Graham, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 579.)
28
The lodestar figure equals the hours expended by the attorney multiplied by that
attorney's reasonable hourly rate. (Ibid.) "It is not necessary to provide detailed billing
timesheets to support an award of attorney fees under the lodestar method. . . .
Declarations of counsel setting forth the reasonable hourly rate, the number of hours
worked and the tasks performed are sufficient." (Concepcion v. Amscan Holdings, Inc.
(2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1309, 1324.) The party seeking attorney fees has "the burden of
showing that the fees incurred were 'allowable,' were 'reasonably necessary to the conduct
of the litigation,' and were 'reasonable in amount.' " (Levy v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.,
Inc. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 807, 816.)
"With respect to the amount of fees awarded, there is no question our review must
be highly deferential to the views of the trial court. [Citation.] As our high court has
repeatedly stated, ' " '[t]he "experienced trial judge is the best judge of the value of
professional services rendered in his [or her] court, and while his judgment is of course
subject to review, it will not be disturbed unless the appellate court is convinced that it is
clearly wrong"—meaning that it abused its discretion.' " ' " (Children's Hospital &
Medical Center v. Bonta' (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 740, 777.)
"A trial court may not rubberstamp a request for attorney fees, but must determine
the number of hours reasonably expended." (Donahue v. Donahue (2010) 182
Cal.App.4th 259, 271.) Diego Plus cited this authority to the trial court in its written
opposition. "In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that the trial court
considered the relevant factors" (Gorman v. Tassajara Development Corp. (2009) 178
29
Cal.App.4th 44, 67), including whether Sweetwater reasonably expended the number of
hours it spent on this action.
Appellants assert that even assuming Sweetwater's entitlement to a fee award, the
trial court erred in the amount of fees awarded. Appellants note that the court awarded
Sweetwater the full amount of fees requested and contend that the court merely
"rubberstamped" Sweetwater's fee request. As examples of the trial court's failure to
analyze the time spent by Sweetwater's counsel, appellants observe that the trial court
awarded Sweetwater over 80 hours, or approximately $20,000 worth of fees, for tasks
related to the intervenor students. It also awarded 10 hours (approximately $2,000 worth
of fees) for tasks related to potential criminal violations of the CSA by Diego Plus.
Additional violations of the CSA, whether criminal or not, could form a basis for
Sweetwater to amend its petition. It was not unreasonable for Sweetwater to investigate
this issue and request fees for this work. Nor was it unreasonable for the trial court to
award these fees. The same law firm represented the intervening students and Diego
Plus. The students intervened seeking essentially the opposite relief of that requested by
Sweetwater in its petition. The students' claims were related to the primary litigation, and
we find nothing clearly wrong in the trial court's exercise of discretion to award
Sweetwater its fees related to the intervening students.
Appellants also complain that Sweetwater did not present billing timesheets to
support their request, but presented declarations with general summaries of blockedbilling
statements. "The law is clear, however, that an award of attorney fees may be
based on counsel's declarations, without production of detailed time records." (Raining
30
Data Corp. v. Barrenechea (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1363, 1375.) Here, the three
attorneys primarily involved in the litigation provided declarations under penalty of
perjury supporting the hours sought, which were broken down by hours expended in each
category of services rendered. The same trial judge presided over the entire matter, was
familiar with the record and issues, and was thus well equipped to evaluate the
reasonableness of the time expended by Sweetwater's counsel. (California Interstate Tel.
Co. v. Prescott (1964) 228 Cal.App.2d 408, 411 ["The pleadings, depositions, and other
evidence of the actual work performed by defense counsel were before the court. Upon
this evidence alone the court had discretion to set the fee."].) "The lack of detailed billing
statements perhaps is relevant to the credibility of [the attorney's declaration]; however,
the lack of billing statements does not automatically establish that there was insufficient
evidence for the trial court to render a decision." (City of Colton v. Singletary (2012) 206
Cal.App.4th 751, 786.)
Appellants specifically complain that the trial court had insufficient information
with which to determine the reasonableness of 108.6 hours spent by attorney Keith
Yeomans related to drafting the motion for judgment on the petition. Yeomans's
declaration stated that the 108.6 hours were spent as follows: "Research, draft, and revise
motion for judgment on petition for writ of mandate; analysis of oppositions to motion
for judgment on petition for writ of mandate; research, draft, and revise reply to
oppositions to motion for judgment on petition for writ of mandate; and communications
re same." This brief description, however, is not the only information before the trial
court. The court also had the 35-page motion, supported by six declarations, 52 exhibits
31
and legislative history. The court also had appellants' two opposition briefs, two requests
for judicial notice, evidentiary objections and numerous exhibits to which Sweetwater
filed a consolidated reply. At the beginning of trial the court acknowledged the breadth
and complexity of the material, stating:
"Ladies and gentlemen. [¶] Thank you for the opportunity to read
and read and read and read. It is a complicated case, and I have tried
very hard, as I'm sure you have, to analyze the facts and the legal
arguments and the law to come up with an appropriate decision."
This record does not support appellants' assertion that the trial court had
insufficient information to evaluate the work performed by Sweetwater's counsel. Nor
does it support appellants' claim that the trial court abused its discretion when it declined
to reduce the amount of fees requested.
Appellants next complain about 10 blocked-billing entries by attorney Yeomans,
totaling 108.1 hours, that related to the first set of written discovery. The trial court,
however, had before it the material Yeomans either drafted or reviewed, including:
discovery requests, appellants' responses, and three motions to compel and opposition
thereto. Again, we discern no abuse of discretion in awarding the requested fees for this
work.
Finally, appellants contend that Sweetwater's fee award should be reduced based
on its partial success. Julian specifically argued to the trial court that the "majority of the
work performed by Sweetwater's legal counsel was unnecessary to achieve Sweetwater's
limited success." The trial court impliedly rejected this argument by declining to reduce
the fee award.
32
We apply a two-step inquiry in analyzing whether section 1021.5 fees are
appropriate where a plaintiff achieves limited success. (Espejo v. The Copley Press, Inc.
(2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 329, 382 (Espejo).) The first step is to determine whether the
prevailing party's successful and unsuccessful claims are related. (Ibid.) "If the different
claims are based on different facts and legal theories, they are unrelated; if they involve a
common core of facts or are based on related legal theories, they are related." (Ibid.)
Here, all of Sweetwater's claims were legally and factually related such that an
apportionment of fees was unwarranted.
Where claims are related, the second step requires the trial court to evaluate the
significance of the overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the hours
reasonably expended on the litigation and reduce the lodestar calculation if the relief is
limited in comparison to the scope of the litigation as a whole. (Espejo, supra, 13
Cal.App.5th at p. 382.) "[T]he fee award should not be reduced simply because the
plaintiff failed to prevail on every contention raised in the lawsuit. [Citation.] Litigants
in good faith may raise alternative legal grounds for a desired outcome, and the court's
rejection of or failure to reach certain grounds is not a sufficient reason for reducing a
fee. The result is what matters." (Hensley v. Eckerhart (1983) 461 U.S. 424, 435.)
Sweetwater filed this litigation to stop appellants' operation of charter schools
within its geographic boundaries. The trial court impliedly found that Diego Plus was
operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries and granted Sweetwater both
declaratory and injunctive relief. The court, however, declined to issue a writ of mandate
directing that Julian revoke Diego Valley's charter, finding that revoking Diego Valley's
33
charter was not the only reasonable exercise of discretion under the circumstances. The
court cited the waivers granted by the SBE, noting that the waivers were designed to
minimize disruption to students. Accordingly, the court denied the requested relief based
on the detrimental impact this action would have on a large number of students. The trial
court also declined to order the remaining mandamus relief requested against Julian and
Diego Plus because it found that writs mandating compliance with the law to be
"superfluous." Thus, although the court ultimately denied Sweetwater's petition for writ
of mandate, its denial did not reflect adversely on the merits for these claims. Given
these circumstances, the trial court could have concluded that Sweetwater's attorneys
reasonably expended all its listed hours. On this record, we cannot conclude that the trial
court abused its discretion in awarding Sweetwater all its requested fees.

Outcome: The judgment is affirmed. Respondent is entitled to its costs on appeal.

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