(Concord, CA) Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman, a premier law firm specializing in complex civil litigation, is pleased to announce a historic triumph in the highly anticipated decision from the First District of California’s Court of Appeal, which will be published in the Official Reports detailing the favorable appellate holding denying $600,000 in attorneys’ fees.
In this pivotal case, the firm successfully represented the respondent, a prominent pool and landscaping contractor in Northern California, resulting in a groundbreaking decision that will have far-reaching implications within the swimming pool construction industry.
The case centered around a dispute between the plaintiff homeowners who had contracted our client for the construction of a new rear yard, including a pool, spa, landscaping, pavilion, outdoor kitchen, and pool deck. The homeowners later filed a lawsuit seeking $1.7 million for repairs, disgorgement of funds, and $600,000 in attorneys' fees under the swimming pool construction statute, Business & Professions Code section 7168.
After a rigorous bench trial conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, the court awarded the homeowners approximately $225,000 for repairs and $250,000 in disgorgement. Notably, only $35,000 of the awarded repairs was related to a new pool plaster job, which our client had offered prior to the lawsuit. The court rejected the homeowners' claim for over $200,000 in additional pool and retaining wall repairs, deeming them unwarranted.
Following the trial, the homeowners moved for the full $600,000 in attorneys' fees, arguing that the contract encompassed swimming pool construction and other features. However, WSHB successfully argued before both the trial court and the First District that the swimming pool fee statute only allows for prevailing party fees in actions specifically related to swimming pool construction. The court determined that the homeowners were not the prevailing party on the pool claims since the vast majority of those claims were defeated, and the awarded amount for pool plaster had already been offered by our client before the lawsuit.
Renowned trial attorney, David Webster, who led the legal team, praised the outcome, stating, “This decision not only protects the rights of our client but also clarifies the scope of the swimming pool fee statute, ensuring that it is not misinterpreted to include non-pool claims. We are proud to have achieved this landmark victory and grateful for the opportunity to make a lasting impact in the industry." The appeal was handled by our Petaluma / Sonoma County office partner and certified appellate specialist Steven Disharoon. "This outcome should bring comfort to all involved in the pool construction industry, as it indicates the courts will not support an overly-broad interpretation of this fee statute," stated Disharoon. "Most important," he added, "this victory brings peace and vindication to our clients."
Gregory Arakawa, the managing attorney of the firm’s Northern California office, expressed his admiration for the legal team's exceptional work, stating “Our unwavering dedication and expertise have once again proven instrumental in securing justice for our clients. This victory further solidifies our reputation as a leading law firm handling ground breaking issues, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering exceptional legal services."
The appellate decision, which addresses the legislative history and language of the fee statute, establishes that the statute solely pertains to actions for swimming pool construction. It also highlights the potential "absurd results" that would arise from an expansive interpretation of the statute, extending its scope beyond the intended purpose. If published, this decision would be the first in the state to address the scope of the fee statute and its exclusion of non-pool claims.
WSHB is widely recognized for its expertise in handling complex and high-profile cases, consistently delivering exceptional results for clients across various legal areas. With a team of highly skilled attorneys and a commitment to personalized attention, the firm continues to build a solid reputation for its outstanding legal services.