Consumer protection lawyers rely on court-awarded attorney fees to let them work hard for their clients. So when a trial judge issued an insulting award, The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., took the case over his head. Now a published Court of Appeals decision makes it clear: consumers need the protection of reasonable attorney fees.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the Michigan Consumer Protection Act both protect Michigan consumers from being cheated by from used car dealers. As part of those protections, the statutes allow for courts to award reasonable attorney fees.
When The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., sought those fees in a recent auto fraud case, the judge took offense. He called the lawsuit a “nickel and dime” case and awarded $1,000.00 including costs. That meant hard-working consumer protection attorney Dani K. Liblang received $324.46 for months of work.
The Michigan Court of Appeals wasn’t impressed. In Kennedy v Robert Lee Auto Sales
, the court ruled that consumer protection attorneys are entitled to reasonable attorney fees for their work. In deciding what is reasonable, the court applied a Michigan Supreme Court case Smith v. Khouri
, which said:
“‘[A] trial court should begin its analysis by determining the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services . . . .’ Next, the court should multiply the customary fee by ‘the reasonable number of hours expended in the case . . . .’ The product of these numbers was to serve ‘as the starting point for calculating a reasonable attorney fee. . . . After determining this appropriate starting point, the court ‘should consider the remaining Wood/MRCP factors to determine whether an up or down adjustment is appropriate.'” Kennedy at *6, quoting Smith at 128.
The Court of Appeals had harsh words for the trial judge’s decision, calling it “myopic” and unreasonably focused on the amount obtained by the Plaintiff. The court recognized the “punitive nature to the award of attorney fees under the MCPA and the MMWA. Indeed, although the statutes are designed to protect consumers, the award of attorney fees acts, in some ways, as a penalty against those who have violated the respective acts.” Kennedy at *14, n. 16. It found that the legislature had authorized attorney fees so that skilled attorneys would be encouraged to take on consumer protection cases, even with low monetary value. Without these reasonable attorney fee awards, it would be economically impossible for consumer protection lawyers to represent their clients.
The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., applauds the Court of Appeals’ willingness to stand up for consumers and ensure their attorneys have the means to do their work. It is because of awards like this that the firm is able to represent consumers across Michigan.