LOS ANGELES — A federal district judge has ordered that the defendants in a case pertaining to the unlawful collection of debts levied against a victim of identity theft is to award $118,204 to the plaintiff. 

However, this judgment includes $59,253 in attorney’s fees and costs--more than half the entire judgment. In this case, Richard Washington v. City Title Loan LLC et al., the final judgment was ordered by Federal District Judge Fernando M. Olguin. Olguin served as the presiding magistrate on behalf of the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

This big payday for the plaintiff’s counsel comes several years later in a series of legal proceedings that indicted several private entities for unlawful negligence. 

In this immediate case, the plaintiff sought compensatory and economic relief against City Title Loan LLC and the defendant class for unlawfully collecting a debt they contend the plaintiff owed in 2016. It turns out, however, that Washington, a resident of Little Rock, Arkansas, was a victim of identity theft.

The perpetrator took out a $7,500 in Williams’ name, using his vehicle as collateral on the loan. Williams was unaware of the unlawful loan until his car was repossessed six months later due to payment delinquency. Williams notified the defendant class on several occasions that the payment delinquency was a result of identity theft and requested remediation. However, the defendant class opted not to and continued to pursue Williams for a debt owed. 

Eventually, the plaintiff retained counsel, filed a federal complaint against the defendants. The initial complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California stated: “Defendants repeatedly refused to investigate Plaintiff’s claims of identity theft and have instead repeatedly attempted to pursue debts which are the product of identity theft in violation of: (i) The California Identity Theft Act, (“CITA”) Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.93, et seq.; (ii) The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, (“FDCPA”) 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq.; and (iii) The Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, (“RFDCPA”) Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.” 

A jury trial was requested, and final judgment came to a head in late February 2018.

“Plaintiff is awarded $118,204, which is comprised of the following: (a) economic damages in the amount of $17,951; (b) compensatory damages of $10,000; (c) CITA civil penalties of $30,000; (d) RFDCPA statutory damages of $1,000; (e) attorney’s fees in the amount of $58,400; and (f) costs in the amount of $853,” said Olguin’s final order, obtained by Northern California Record

Individually, the plaintiff won a payment that was thousands of dollars less than the total attorney’s fees and costs.

“An award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs is mandated in this action as the plaintiff is the prevailing party contingent on the court’s granting of plaintiff’s concurrently filed motion for default judgment,” attorney Wayne Sinnett, the plaintiff's counsel, wrote in a motion of fees statement dated Dec. 26, 2017. 

Sinnett added: “The time billed reflects the time required to litigate this case to its current posture. However, the amount sought in this motion is less that half the total attorney hours incurred in this case.”

According to the same motion of fees statement, the plaintiff’s counsel worked “309.8 hours litigating this case [of which 163.8 are being waived and 146 are being sought].”

Sinnett, of the namesake Sinnett Law, APC., submitted the motion. Abbas Kazerounian of Kazerouni Law Group, APC., and Joshua B. Swigart of Hyde & Swigart, LLP., also represented the plaintiff and were attached to the same motions of fees. 

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