In Roybal v. Governing Board of the Salinas City Elementary School District, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Jan. 11, 2008; pub. ord. Feb. 6, 2008), the Court of Appeal (Sixth Appellate District) clarified the standard of review for attorneys' fees awards under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 (the "private attorney general doctrine"):
Trial court decisions on attorney-fee requests under section 1021.5 have traditionally been reviewed deferentially and upheld absent a prejudicial abuse of discretion. (See, e.g., Baggett v. Gates, supra, 32 Cal.3d at pp. 142-143; Galante Vineyards v. Monterey Peninsula Water Management Dist. (1997) 60 Cal.App.4th 1109, 1125.) Our Supreme Court recently clarified, however, that the proper standard of review depends on the extent to which there were issues of fact below. If the issue is whether the criteria for an award of attorney fees and costs in this context have been satisfied, "this may be a mixed question of law and fact and, if factual questions predominate, may warrant a deferential standard of review." (Connerly v. State Personnel Bd. (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1169, 1175.) If, on the other hand, the underlying facts are largely undisputed and the issue calls for statutory construction, it is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. (Id. at pp. 1175-1176.)
Slip op. at 4-5. Applying that standard of review, the Court reversed the fees award.