Statute Awarded Fees On Motions To Enforce Even Though Judgment Was Silent

Under California Corporations Code § 15634, a limited partner has the right to inspect the partnership’s books and records. In Berti v. Santa Barbara Beach Properties, 145 Cal.App.4th 70, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 364 (2d Dist. Nov. 27, 2006), plaintiffs brought litigation under § 15634 that ultimately was settled under an agreement that was merged into a judgment that did not provide or attorneys’ fees.

When plaintiff brought various motions to enforce the settlement and then sought attorneys’ fees for those efforts, the trial court denied the motion as there was no fee provision in the judgment. However, the appellate court found that the statutory right to fees was superior, and entitled plain­tiffs to fees notwithstanding the absence of a provision for fees within the judgment.

This case illustrates a principle the federal courts have grappled with for some time as well under fee-shifting statutes and offers of judgment. The lesson here is -- before you settle, make sure you know whether attorney's fees snuck their way into the settlement by operation of law.