Charton v. Harkey

Under CCP 1032(a), a prevailing party is entitled to a cost award even if it is united in interest with co-parties that did not prevail, but the trial court has discretion in awarding only those jointly incurred costs which were reasonably necessary to the prevailing party’s case.  Disagreeing with Slavin v. Fink (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 722 and several other cases, this decision holds that the 1986 rewrite of CCP 1032 abolished older case law holding that a party could be denied prevailing party status due to its being “united in interest” with a co-party that did not prevail.  The decision holds that a party falling within one of the four categories of parties prevailing as of right under CCP 1032(a) is entitled as a matter of law to prevailing party status for purposes of awarding costs; the trial court has no discretion to deny such a party costs on the ground it is united in interest with other non-prevailing parties.  However, the prevailing party is only entitled to an award of costs that are “reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation rather than merely convenient or beneficial in its preparation.”  When costs are jointly incurred by parties, only some of whom prevailed, the trial court must apportion the costs based on the reason they were incurred and whether they were reasonably necessary to the prevailing party’s prosecution or defense.  In apportioning costs, the trial court cannot simply divide total costs by the number of jointly represented clients, but must examine each cost separately to evaluate why it was incurred and whether it was reasonably necessary to the prevailing party’s victory.

California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 3 (Aronson, J.); May 24, 2016; 2016 WL 2994747

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