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Woodland Hills Residents Ass'n v. City Council of Los Angeles

Citation: 8 ELR 20046
No. 2 Civ. No. 48207, 75 Cal. App. 3d 1, (Cal. Ct. App., 11/14/1977)

The court reverses a lower court's refusal to award attorney fees to plaintiffs who successfully challenged defendants' approval of a proposed subdivision tract map on the grounds that it failed to include a finding that the subdivision was consistent with the city's general plan. Plaintiffs are entitled to an award of attorney fees under the "substantial benefit" exception to the general rule against such awards. Their victory in this lawsuit benefited all citizens of Los Angeles by vindicating the principle that all future housing subdivisions must be developed in accordance with the general plan of the city. Such non-pecuniary environmental benefits are cognizable as "substantial benefits" for purposes of applying the exception, and the citizens of Los Angeles represent an ascertainable class to whom the benefits flow and among whom the costs of the attorney fees can be easily spread. Because the benefits of the litigation accrue more directly to plaintiffs as property owners near the proposed subdivision than to the general public, however, fairness requires that the city not be ordered to reimburse the full cost of plaintiffs' attorneys. In this case plaintiffs received the greater benefit and thus must pay the greater portion of their attorney fees themselves. The court expressly declines to answer the additional question of whether plaintiffs are also entitled to recover attorney fees under the "private attorney general" exception to the general rule where, as here, they are enforcing statutory rather than constitutional rights. The court notes an amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure which codifies the judicially created substantial benefits doctrine but declines to apply it because it does not become effective until January 1, 1978. The trial court is directed to award plaintiffs reasonable attorney fees in an amount to be determined in accordance with this opinion.

For a summary of appellants' brief, see ELR PEND. LIT. 65432.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
Antonio Rossman
717 K St., Suite 222, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 441-3770

A. James Roberts, III
Tuttle & Taylor
607 Grand Ave., Los Angeles CA 90017
(213) 680-0300

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Burt Pines, City Attorneys; Robert Thomson, Executive Ass't City Attorneys; Claude H. Hilker, Jerome Montgomery, Ass't City Attorneys
111 N. Hope St., Box 111, Los Angeles CA 90051
(213) 481-6362