For purposes of determining entitlement to a private attorney general fee award under CCP 1021.5, financial burden of the litigation must exceed the prevailing party’s personal interest in the litigation—that is, its economic interest in the litigation broadly construed, not just the amount of damages it might recover if it prevailed.  Here, the plaintiffs were not entitled to a fee award because their financial interests in the litigation far exceeded the amount they spent on attorney fees.  The seller of water rights stood to gain $1.6 million from the purchase contract if the defendant’s cease and desist order was overturned.  The buyer water district stood to gain both a steady water supply for its customers and value for the $500,000 downpayment it had made on the contract to buy water rights.

California Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1 (Margulies, Acting P.J.); September 28, 2016 (modified & published on denial of rehearing October 26, 2016); 2016 WL 6249041