In Almada v. Krieger Law Firm, A.P.C., No. 21-55275, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 1946, at *4-5 (9th Cir. Jan. 24, 2022), the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a dunning letter was not deceptive because “fees” claimed were “paralegal” fees.
Almada argues that Kriger’s assessment of the prelien fee violates the FDCPA because the fee was not authorized by the parties’ contract or California law and Kriger misleadingly characterized the fee as an “attorney’s fee” when the work was performed by a paralegal and no attorney was involved. We disagree. California Civil Code § 5650(b)(1) authorizes a homeowners’ association to recover “[r]easonable costs incurred in collecting [a] delinquent assessment, including reasonable attorney’s fees.” While California courts have not construed the term “attorney’s fees” in this particular statute, the court may “look to the judicial construction of similar language in . . . analogous statute[s],” to determine its meaning. Guinn v. Dotson, 23 Cal. App. 4th 262, 28 Cal. Rptr. 2d 409, 413 (Ct. App. 1994). The California Court of Appeal has repeatedly held that fees incurred for work performed by paralegals qualify as “attorney’s fees.” See id. at 414; Sundance v. Mun. Ct., 192 Cal. App. 3d 268, 237 Cal. Rptr. 269, 273 (Ct. App. 1987) (collecting cases); Salton Bay Marina, Inc. v. Imperial Irrigation Dist., 172 Cal. App. 3d 914, 218 Cal. Rptr. 839, 860 (Ct. App. 1985). This is consistent with federal practice. See Missouri v. Jenkins by Agyei, 491 U.S. 274, 285, 109 S. Ct. 2463, 105 L. Ed. 2d 229 (1989). Therefore, we hold that the prelien fee was authorized as a reasonable attorney’s fee and that any implication that the fee was an “attorney’s fee” was true.