By Patrick Maloney and Sam Fogas, The Maloney Firm, APC
Mandatory Fee Arbitration under Business & Professions Code § 6200 et seq. often provides an efficient means for attorneys and clients to resolve disputes concerning unpaid legal fees. Where either party is unhappy with the arbitration results, the dissatisfied party is entitled to seek review of the award through a trial de novo.
The deadline for seeking a trial de novo has been subject to some uncertainty, which was recently clarified by the California Court of Appeal in Soni v. Simplelayers, Inc., a case published by the Second Appellate District on December 3, 2019. Confusion concerning the deadline for seeking a trial de novo arose from a lack of clarity about whether the deadline for seeking such relief was to be extended when the award was service by mail. Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 1013, in certain instances service by mail provides an automatic five-day extension of any resulting deadlines. The vast majority of awards issued in Mandatory Fee Arbitration are served on the participants by mail.
In Soni, the Court of Appeal held that the deadline for seeking a trial de novo is 30 days after the date on which the arbitration award is served, irrespective of the manner of service. As the Court explained, mail service occurs when an item is deposited in the mail for service, not upon its arrival. The Court held the deadline for requesting a trial de novo is 30 days after the award is deposited in mail. The 30-day deadline is not extended by the fact of mail service.
Following Soni, parties to a non-binding Mandatory Fee Arbitration should carefully review the date on which the agency administering the fee arbitration served the award and calendar the deadline for seeking a trial de novo 30 days from the actual date of service of the award, irrespective of the manner of service of the award or the date on which the award arrives.
About the Authors: Patrick Maloney and Sam Fogas
The founding shareholder of The Maloney Firm, APC, Mr. Maloney represents attorneys and clients in disputes over legal fees and legal malpractice. Mr. Fogas is a civil litigation attorney at The Maloney Firm, APC. If you have questions regarding this article, contact Patrick Maloney at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.