Interesting new Florida Supreme Court case regarding the discoverability of an opposing party’s attorney’s fees records in a dispute regarding the reasonableness of your fees.
For instance, say you are entitled to your reasonable attorney’s fees after prevailing in a dispute. The parties are entitled to an evidentiary fee hearing to determine the reasonableness of your fees—to determine the reasonable hourly rate and number of expended hours. Oftentimes, the party that prevailed serves discovery on the opposing / contesting party to discover their attorney’s fees records. The opposing / contesting party typically objects to this discovery as being irrelevant. But, not so fast…
The Florida Supreme Court in Patton v. Geico Ins. Co., 41 Fla.L.Weekly S115a (Fla. 2016) recently chimed in on this specific issue in a matter where a party recovered a judgment against an insurance carrier. The Florida Supreme Court expressed:
[T]he billing records of opposing counsel are relevant to the issue of reasonableness of time expended in a claim for attorney’s fees, and their discovery falls within the discretion of the trial court when the fees are contested….The hours expended by the attorneys for the [defendant] insurance company will demonstrate the complexity of the case along with the time expended, and may belie a claim that the number of hours spent by the plaintiff was unreasonable, or that the plaintiff is not entitled to a full lodestar computation, including a multiplying factor.
It is safe to say that this rationale is probably not limited to an entitlement of attorney’s fees against an insurance company. Rather, the rationale could reasonably apply to any dispute where the attorney’s fees are contested. What if the opposing / contesting party had a higher hourly rate? What if the opposing / contesting party billed more hours? The answers to these questions are the reasons why the opposing / contesting party’s attorney’s fees records are sought when your fees are contested.
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