While not a UCL decision, Abouab v. City and County of San Francisco, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (July 20, 2006), is worth reading because it addresses four of the potential bases for an attorneys' fees award in UCL cases: the private attorney general doctrine, the common fund theory, the substantial benefit theory, and the catalyst theory. The Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division Two) held that the plaintiff was not entitled to recover fees under any of these theories.
The decision addresses a question about the catalyst theory that I've had in my mind ever since the Supreme Court decided Graham v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 34 Cal.4th 553 (2004). In Graham, the Supreme Court held that fees can be recovered under the catalyst theory only if the plaintiff made a pre-lawsuit attempt to resolve the dispute. Id. at 577. So, what if your case was already on file before Graham was decided? How can you satisfy that requirement after the fact? Under Abouab, you can't. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff could not recover fees under the catalyst theory because (among other reasons) he had not satified the pre-lawsuit notification requirement, even though his case was filed before the Supreme Court announced that requirement in Graham. (Slip op. at 21-30.) That does not seem entirely fair, but I suppose we should all be thankful that the Supreme Court adopted the catalyst theory at all.