Private Attorney General Doctrine Case Law

"The private attorney general doctrine, however, was not intended to reward litigants motivated by their own pecuniary interests who only coincidentally protect the public interest. Flannery v. CHP (1998) 61 CA4th 629, 71 CR2d 632; 1. Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie (1998) 63 CA4th 1128, 1170, 74 CR2d 510 (following Flannery); 2. Beach Colony II, Ltd. v. California Coastal Comm'n (1985) 166 CA3d 106, 114, 212 CR 485. Compare Beach Colony with Planned Parenthood, Inc. v. Aakhus (1993) 14 CA4th 162, 173, 17 CR2d 510, 516 (fees awardable even though plaintiff had sufficient business interest to bring suit because suit also brought to protect 'mutual and inseparable' interests of its patrons); 3. Galante Vineyards v. Monterey Peninsula Water Mgmt. Dist. (1997) 60 CA4th 1109, 71 CR2d 1 (upholding fee award in CEQA action because, although four of six petitioners had financial interest, obtaining environmental impact report produced 'no direct pecuniary benefit' and any 'future monetary advantage . . . is speculative')." (Pearl, Cal. Attorney Fee Awards (Cont.Ed.Bar 2d ed. 1999) 4.34, pp. 4-32 to 4-33.) 4. In Feminist Women's Health Center v. Blythe (1995) 32 Cal. App. 4th 1641, 1667-1668 [39 Cal. Rptr. 2d 189], this court followed Press and held that, in order to defeat an award of fees, a plaintiff's personal stake in the litigation had to be financial. 5. In Williams v. San Francisco Bd. of Permit Appeals (1999) 74 Cal. App. 4th 961 [88 Cal. Rptr. 2d 565] (Williams), the only California case recognizing that a successful plaintiff's attorneys fees may be defeated by his aesthetic interest in the litigation, the court purported to distinguish Press on several grounds, none of which is persuasive. "The court in Henneberque v. City of Culver City (1985) 172 CA3d 837, 218 CR 704, noted that 'the financial burden of prosecuting this case through two writ proceedings and two appeals clearly is "out of proportion" to the economic benefit Henneberque now stands to gain.' 172 CA3d at 847, 218 CR at 710. See also People ex rel Seal Beach Police Officers Ass'n v. City of Seal Beach (1984) 36 C3d 591, 602, 205 CR 974, 801. See also Schmid v. Lovette (1984) 154 CA3d 466, 479, 201 CR 424, 431 (simplicity of litigation does not eliminate burden).