California Civil Code section 1717 entitles the prevailing party to attorneys’ fees “[i]n any action on a contract,” where the contract provides for an award of attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party, regardless of whether the prevailing party is the party specified in the contract or not. But what about an action that alleges tort causes of action against an alter ego of a contracting party but that does not include a breach of contract claim against the alter ego? This was the question facing the California Court of Appeal in 347 Group, Inc. v. Philip Hawkins Architect, Inc. (2020) 58 Cal.App.5th 209.
In that case, the plaintiff 347 Group sued and obtained a default judgment for breach of contract against defendant Philip Hawkins Architect, Inc. Id. at 211–12. 347 Group had also sued Philip Hawkins individually as well as Design-Build, Inc., the company Hawkins founded after putting Philip Hawkins Architect, Inc. into bankruptcy. Id. at 212. 347 Group originally alleged claims for breach of contract, fraudulent conveyance, and conspiracy against Hawkins and Design-Build, seeking to establish that Hawkins and Design-Build were the alter egos of the contracting party, Philip Hawkins Architect, Inc., but later dismissed the breach of contract claim. Id. Hawkins and Design-Build eventually prevailed on the tort causes of action, and moved for attorneys’ fees. Id.