Key Decisions

May 2012 – Wage And Hours Case Was Payable To The Attorney Absent

(filed under: | May 16, 2012)

An Attorney Fee Award In A Wage And Hours Case Was Payable To The Attorney Absent A Provision To The Contrary In The Fee Agreement

Henry M. Lee Law Corporation v. Superior Court
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed April 16, 2012 

Henry M. Lee represented Ok Song Chang as her attorney in employment litigation based on the allegation that her employer, A-Ju Tours, violated wage and hours laws by failing to pay Chang at least the minimum wage. The trial resulted in a $62,246.74 judgment in favor of Chang. The trial court awarded Chang $300,000 in attorney fees under Labor Code sections 1194(a) and 226(e).

Before A-Ju Tours paid the fee award, Chang substituted herself in propria persona for Lee.

Lee moved to intervene in the action and to amend the post judgment order awarding attorney fees to make the fee award payable to Lee. The trial court denied the motion.

Lee petitioned the Court of Appeal for extraordinary relief by way of a writ of mandate. Lee contended that he was entitled to intervene and that the attorney fee award belongs to and should be made payable to him.

The Court of Appeal issued the writ. It concluded that Lee, as a person whose interests were injuriously affected by the order awarding attorney fees, was entitled to move to vacate the order and enter a new order awarding fees to him. It also concluded that an appeal from the denial of Lee’s motion would not be an adequate remedy and that extraordinary writ review was appropriate.

On the merits of Lee’s motion, the court held that an attorney fee award under Labor Code sections 1194(a) and 226(e) should be made payable to the attorney who provided the legal services rather than the client, unless their fee agreement otherwise provides.

There was an unresolved factual question as to the terms of the agreement between Chang and Lee, so it was for the trial court, on remand, must consider the agreement in ruling on Lee’s motion.