California ''Prevailing Party'' Definition
Civil Code section 1942.4 authorizes an award of attorney fees to the prevailing party, nowhere in that statute is there a definition of "prevailing party."
Therefore, it would appear the determination of which party, if either, prevailed in an action brought under section 1942.4 is a matter left to the discretion of the trial court.
In Heather Farms Homeowners Assn. v. Robinson (1994) 21 Cal. App. 4th 1568 26 Cal. Rptr. 2d 758 the court was presented with the question of defining "prevailing party" within the meaning of Civil Code section 1354, pertaining to enforcement of CC&R's (covenants, conditions, and restrictions).
Faced with the lack of an explicit definition within that statute, Heather Farms held the trial court had discretion to determine the identity of the prevailing party for purposes of awarding attorney fees, and that a defendant dismissed without prejudice in an action to enforce equitable servitudes is not by reason of that fact the prevailing party. (Heather Farms, supra, 21 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1570-1571, 1574.)
Heather Farms explained:
"The premise for the argument, that a litigant who prevails under the cost statute is necessarily the prevailing party for purposes of attorney fees, has been uniformly rejected by the courts of this state. (See McLarand, Vasquez & Partners, Inc. v. Downey Savings & Loan Assn. (1991) 231 Cal. App. 3d 1450, 1456 282 Cal. Rptr. 828 'We emphatically reject the contention that the prevailing party for the award of costs under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032 is necessarily the prevailing party for the award of attorneys' fees.'.)" (Heather Farms, supra, 21 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1572.)
Heather Farms also observed that section 1032, subdivision (a) "only defines ' "prevailing party" ' as the term is used 'in that section.' It does not purport to define the term for purposes of other statutes." (Heather Farms, supra, 21 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1572.)