Recovery of Attorney’s Fees Pursuant to CCP § 1021.5 Requires Showing that the Disclosed Records Conferred a Significant Public Benefit
- By: Michelle Nasise
In Burgess v. Coronado Unified School District, Cal.App.5th, 2020 Cal.App.LEXIS 2020 (4th Dist. Div. 1 Dec. 24, 2020) (D076263), a news outlet, Voice of San Diego (Voice), a PRA request was made to the Coronado Unified School District (District) regarding an employee, Randall Burgess (Burgess), who had been the subject of unsubstantiated molestation allegations. Burgess then sued the District to enjoin disclosure, and Voice intervened.
The trial court denied Burgess’s request for injunction and ordered the District to disclose a small class of documents, consisting of publicly available court filings (in Burgess’s separate lawsuit against the District seeking his reinstatement) and materials submitted to the District at a public hearing. Thereafter, it denied Voice’s request for attorney’s fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, finding the production did not confer a significant public benefit—a required element of § 1021.5.
The Fourth District affirmed the denial of fees, finding that the lower court had a reasonable basis for ruling that Voice’s opposition had not conferred a significant benefit on the public because the only documents that the school district produced were already public, either as a result of public filings in other lawsuits or because they were public complaints sent to the school district or comments about those complaints. It further rejected Voice’s request to broadly read § 1021.5 in reverse PRA actions, finding that such contentions should be addressed with the Legislature, not the courts.