attorneys’ fees

Considerations when Multiple Proposals for Settlement are Served on Separate Defendants

Posted by David Adelstein on February 17, 2019
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I have previously discussed proposals for settlement / offers of judgment (“proposals for settlement”).  A proposal for settlement is a statutory vehicle pursuant to both Florida Statute s. 768.79 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442 to create an argument to recover attorney’s fees based on the judgment amount.  (See this article for more on proposals for settlement).

For a plaintiff (party seeking affirmative relief), the plaintiff must obtain a judgment 25% greater than the proposal for settlement amount. When there are multiple defendants, the plaintiff needs to serve a proposal for settlement on each defendant. 

In Cassedy, Jr. v. Wood,44 Fla.L.Weekly D422a (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), a landlord sued his tenants for breach of a lease when the tenants vacated the property and stopped paying rent.  The lease agreement provided that if collection was required by the landlord, the tenant was required to pay 10% of the judgment amount to cover attorney’s fees.  I have no clue why the attorney’s provision in the lease included this language versus the standard prevailing party attorney’s fees language.

The landlord, obviously knowing the lease would not make him whole for purposes of recovering his attorney’s fees based on that interesting attorney’s fees language, also served a proposal for settlement on each of his tenants.  The proposal for settlement required each tenant, independent of the other tenants, to pay the landlord $25,000.   If the landlord recovered a judgment 25% greater than any proposal for settlement amount, the landlord would now have an argument to recover his attorney’s fees from the date he served the proposal for settlement on forward.

The landlord recovered a judgment of $83,657.60 against the tenants.  The tenants were jointly and severally liable for this amount, meaning they were ALL on the hook for this total amount and the landlord could collect this judgment amount from any one or a combination of the tenants.  This makes sense since likely all of the tenants were on the lease and signed the lease.

The trial court denied attorney’s fees pursuant to the proposal for settlements, which was subject to a de novo standard of appellate review.  The appellate court reversed.

The tenants argued the separate $25,000 proposal for settlement amounts should be aggregated (totaling $75,000) for purposes of determining whether the judgment amount was 25% greater than the proposals for settlement amount for purposes of determining whether attorney’s fees should be awarded.  This was shot down on appeal.  There is no requirement that separate proposals for settlement be aggregated and there was no dispute that the landlord recovered a judgment against all the defendants ($83,657.6) 25% greater than the $25,000 proposal for settlement amounts, especially since all of the tenants were jointly and severally liable for the judgment.

The tenants also argued that the landlord could not recover attorney’s fees pursuant to the lease and also through a proposal for settlement.  This was shot down on appeal.  “Based on the imposition of a penalty pursuant to section 768.79 [Florida Statutes] and its mandatory application if all requirements are met, we find a party is not precluded from receipt of attorney’s fees under a contract and the [proposal for settlement] statute simultaneously.”  Cassedy, Jr., supra.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Proposals for Settlement ONLY Apply to Claims for Monetary Relief

Posted by David Adelstein on December 02, 2018
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While there are times I will serve a proposal for settlement to create an argument to recover attorney’s fees, I always tell clients proposals for settlement create nothing more than an argument.  In other words, you cannot bank on actually recovering attorney’s fees because of conflicting case law or case law that finds reasons to invalidate a proposal for settlement. Thus, when I serve a proposal for settlement, I make sure the client’s expectations are tempered.  But, when I receive a proposal for settlement on behalf of a client, I make sure the client appreciates that they can be liable for attorney’s fees regardless of the conflicting case law in effect.  Proposals for settlement, in my opinion, have become head scratchers. 

 

The case of Starboard Cruise Services, Inc. v. DePrince, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D2581a (Fla. 3d DCA 2018) exemplifies the confusing nature of proposals for settlement.  In this case, the defendant served a proposal for settlement conditioned on the plaintiff releasing all claims asserted in his amended complaint and dismissing the amended complaint with prejudice.  The plaintiff’s amended complaint contained claims for monetary relief and a specific performance claim for equitable relief (where non-monetary damages were sought).  Prior to trial, the plaintiff dismissed his equitable claim and proceeded to trial only on his claim for monetary relief. The jury found in favor of the defendant and the defendant filed a motion for attorney’s fees based on its proposal for settlement (that the plaintiff did not accept).  The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees finding that the proposal for settlement was invalid since it applied to plaintiff’s claims for monetary relief and equitable relief. 

The appellate court agreed with the trial court finding that the defendant’s proposal for settlement was invalid because it was conditioned on the plaintiff releasing all his claims—his claims for monetary relief and his claim for equitable relief (where non-monetary relief was also sought).   A proposal for settlement only applies to claims for money damages.

Due consideration is required when serving a proposal for settlement.  Even with that consideration, there is still the possibility that the proposal for settlement will be deemed invalid, as was the circumstance in this case.  

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Incentive for Taking Case on Contingency – the Contingency Fee Multiplier

Posted by David Adelstein on August 26, 2018
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A recent appellate decision came out regarding contingency fee multipliers–the incentive for taking a case on contingency.  

I included a thorough discussion on the requirements establishing a contingency fee multiplier here.  Check out this discussion that goes into establishing reasonable attorney’s fees and then the contingency fee multiplier.

Notably, in this case, the appellate court affirmed that the elements associated with establishing an entitlement to a contingency fee multiplier are as follows:

(1) whether the relevant market requires a contingency fee multiplier to obtain competent counsel (i.e., whether there are attorneys in the relevant market and would have taken the case on contingency absent the availability of the multiplier);

(2) whether the attorney was able to mitigate the risk of nonpayment in any way; and

(3) whether any of the factors set forth in Rowe (the reasonable attorney’s fees factors) are applicable, especially, the amount involved, the results obtained, and the type of fee arrangement between the attorney and his client.  This is looked at through the lens of the counsel at the time the counsel takes the case, and not with the benefit of hindsight.

There are a number of reasons for an attorney to take a matter on contingency.  While there is certainly a risk, there is also the prospect of an award, and with the contingency fee multiplier, the incentive is that a multiplier could be added to reasonable attorney’s fees to increase the amount of awarded fees. 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

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Injunctive Relief + Attorney’s Fees Awarded in Favor of an Owner and Against Her Association

Posted by David Adelstein on May 12, 2018
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Here is a case that may give associations some degree of consternation.  I think it should because it supports permanent injunctive relief against an association to comply with its governing documents when managing or maintaining a surface water management system / stormwater management system.   This case, discussed below, would extend beyond a surface water management system to any covenant in the governing documents.  

In Coconut Creek Homeowner’s Association, Inc. v. Gonzalez,  43 Fla.L.Weekly D1045a (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), a homeowner sued her homeowner’s association for failing to manage the association’s surface water management system.  The homeowner sued the association for breach of the governing documents (Declaration, bylaws, etc.) and for a permanent / mandatory injunction to compel the association to comply with its governing documents to fix the swales and drainage system (common elements owned by the association).   The lack of management of the surface water management system caused flooding problems and damage to the homeowner’s home.

The jury found that the association breached its governing documents in failing to manage the surface water management system, but awarded the homeowner $0 caused by the breach associated with her claimed damages.  But, the trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court, granted a mandatory / permanent injunction against the association to enforce restrictive covenants in the governing documents. Specifically, the injunctive relief was issued to order the association to fix the swales and drainage system and comply with its governing documents.  

Now, the association perhaps thought this was not all that bad because it did not owe the homeowner any monetary damages based on the jury’s verdict of $0.  However, the appellate court found that because the homeowner prevailed on the significant issues of her case, she is entitled to her attorney’s fees and costs.  Thus, a mandatory / permanent injunction is issued against the association requiring it to comply with the governing documents and it is liable for the homeowner’s attorney’s fees and costs, which are likely significant after a trial.  Please check out this article for more information relating to the attorney’s fees aspect of this case. 

If you live in a community governed by an association (whether a homeowner’s association or condominium association), make sure you seek counsel that appreciates the issues associated with your governing documents.  And, an association needs to likewise consider the issues so it understands its responsibilities under the governing documents and potential outcomes associated with owner disputes.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Attorney’s Fee Arrangements can be Creative or Innovative

Posted by David Adelstein on April 13, 2018
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Lawyers get it.  Generally, people do not like to spend money on lawyers.  There are certainly exceptions where clients value the relationship with a lawyer knowing that the services provided and advice given is worth the fees.  Ideally, this should be the sentiment from anyone that feels they need a lawyer, even if the advice paid for is to steer you in a more focused direction based on the pros/cons of the claims and issues you are dealing with.  But, money is important and decisions cannot be made in a vacuum without understanding associated costs.  

I get that not everyone wants to have to deal with the potential unknown of hourly lawyer billing, the traditional legal model.  There are creative or innovative models out there outside of hourly lawyer billing that can be explored in certain matters, but the dynamic of that model has to work for both the client and lawyer.  If you are interested in learning a little more about the nuts and bolts of creative or innovative attorney’s fee models where there is a focus on results, performance, or meeting budgetary or target parameters, check out the ebook above. Look, there is no one-size-fits-all model.  The key takeaway is that creativity can be implemented in a business model so the attorney-client relationship works for both the attorney and the client!

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Requests for Admissions as a Discovery Tool

Posted by David Adelstein on January 30, 2018
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Requests for Admissions are one of my favorite discovery tools in litigation. Requests for Admissions are designed to narrow the disputed facts by requiring the recipient of the request to admit or deny the requested fact. These should be served with the objective of having the recipient admit the requested fact.   If the recipient does admit the fact, then the fact is a stipulated fact – it does not need to be proved at trial because it is stipulated to.  

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.380(c) provides:

(c) Expenses on Failure to Admit. If a party fails to admit the genuineness of any document or the truth of any matter as requested under rule 1.370 and if the party requesting the admissions thereafter proves the genuineness of the document or the truth of the matter, the requesting party may file a motion for an order requiring the other party to pay the requesting party the reasonable expenses incurred in making that proof, which may include attorneys’ fees. The court shall issue such an order at the time a party requesting the admissions proves the genuineness of the document or the truth of the matter, upon motion by the requesting party, unless it finds that (1) the request was held objectionable pursuant to rule 1.370(a), (2) the admission sought was of no substantial importance, or (3) there was other good reason for the failure to admit.

Under this rule, if a recipient denies a request for admission and the requester proves the truth of the matter, the requester is entitled to expenses inclusive of attorney’s fees. You would think this rule is designed to motivate a party to truly admit a fact versus denying a fact to avoid the stipulation. But, not so fast…

In a recent case, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Ward, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D252b (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), the court awarded the requester $981,116.23 in attorney’s fees and costs under this rule by proving the truth of the matter of the recipient’s denials to requests for admissions. The appellate court, however, reversed maintaining that if the recipient has a good reason to deny the request, such fees and costs cannot be awarded.  For instance, if the recipient denies a hotly contested fact in the case and is later proved wrong, fees and costs cannot be awarded under this rule because the recipient had a good reason to deny the request.

There really is not a bright line standard as to what constitutes a good reason to deny and what does not, potentially watering down the sanction for a party’s denial of a fact. Nevertheless, this rule is not designed to shift fees and costs to the recipient simply because the party does not stipulate to a contested fact.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Quick Note: Order Denying Attorney’s Fees Reviewed De Novo

Posted by David Adelstein on December 17, 2017
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An order denying a motion for attorney’s fees is generally reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.  In a recent case I wrote about dealing with a coverage dispute between an insured and a property insurer, both the insured and insurer moved for attorney’s fees after the jury’s verdict.  

In this case, the insured moved for attorney’s fees pursuant to statute — Florida Statute s. 627.428.  The trial court denied the insured’s motion.  The insurer moved for attorney’s fees pursuant to a proposal for settlement / offer of judgment it served under Florida Statute s. 768.79.  The trial court denied the insurer’s motion too.  Both orders were appealed and reviewed by the appellate court under a de novo standard of appellate review.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

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The Contingency Fee Multiplier is NOT just for the Rare and Exceptional Dispute

Posted by David Adelstein on October 19, 2017
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In a great victory for those handling difficult contingency fee disputes (particularly contingency fee disputes dealing with economic damages, such as me), the Florida Supreme Court held that the contingency fee multiplier is not to be applied only in the rare and exceptional case. Oh no! Had the Court entered such a ruling, this would have virtually eliminated the application of the contingency fee multiplier. Boo!  This multiplier is important as it incentivizes those attorneys that handle difficult contingency fee cases by adding a multiplier on the reasonably determined attorney’s fees. (For example, if the Court determines that an attorney’s reasonable attorney’s fees are $35,000, the Court can order a multiplier of 2, meaning the attorney’s fees would be $70,000). As they say, with risk comes reward!

In what I think to be noteworthy language regarding the contingency fee multiplier, the Court pronounced:

[T]he contingency fee multiplier provides trial courts with the flexibility to ensure that lawyers, who take a difficult case on a contingency fee basis, are adequately compensated. We also do not agree that the contingency fee multiplier encourages “nonmeritorious claims” and would, instead, posit that solely because a case is “difficult” or “complicated” does not mean that the case is nonmeritorious. Indeed, without the option of a contingency fee multiplier, those with difficult and complicated cases will likely be unable or find it difficult to obtain counsel willing to represent them.

***

The point being, the lodestar amount, which awards an attorney for the work performed on the case, is properly analyzed through the hindsight of the actual outcome of the case, whereas the contingency fee multiplier, which is intended to incentivize the attorney to take a potentially difficult or complex case, is properly analyzed through the same lens as the attorney when making the decision to take the case. We disagree that the possibility of receiving a contingency fee multiplier leads to a “windfall.” … While the attorney for the insurer charges and receives an hourly rate regardless of whether the defense is successful, the insured’s attorney bears the risk of never being compensated for the number of hours spent litigating the case. This risk, among other factors, is what entitles the attorney to seek, and the trial court to consider, the application of a contingency fee multiplier.

Joyce v. Federated National Ins. Co., 42 Fla.L.Weekly S852a (Fla. 2017).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

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Timely Move for Appellate Attorney’s Fees (if You have a Basis!)

Posted by David Adelstein on June 25, 2017
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Moving for appellate attorney’s fees? If you do, make sure you TIMELY file a motion!  Appeals take time…in many instances, lots of time…and if there is a basis to recover attorney’s fees, you want to make sure a motion is timely filed and supported by a contractual or statutory basis.

Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.400 governs appellate costs and fees.   This Rule provides:

(a) Costs. Costs shall be taxed in favor of the prevailing party unless the court orders otherwise. Taxable costs shall include

(1) fees for filing and service of process;

(2) charges for preparation of the record and any hearing or trial transcripts necessary to determine the proceeding;

(3) bond premiums; and

(4) other costs permitted by law.

Costs shall be taxed by the lower tribunal on a motion served no later than 45 days after rendition of the court’s order. If an order is entered either staying the issuance of or recalling a mandate, the lower tribunal is prohibited from taking any further action on costs pending the issuance of a mandate or further order of the court.

(b) Attorneys’ Fees. With the exception of motions filed pursuant to rule 9.410(b), a motion for attorneys’ fees shall state the grounds on which recovery is sought and shall be served not later than:

(1) in appeals, the time for service of the reply brief; or

(2) in original proceedings, the time for service of the petitioner’s reply to the response to the petition.

The assessment of attorneys’ fees may be remanded to the lower tribunal. If attorneys’ fees are assessed by the court, the lower tribunal may enforce payment.

(c) Review. Review of orders rendered by the lower tribunal under this rule shall be by motion filed in the court within 30 days of rendition.

The entitlement to attorney’s fees must be supported by a statutory or contractual basis. State, Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Trauth, 971 So.2d 906, 908 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007).   It is incumbent on a party to timely file a motion for appellate attorney’s fees if they want to recover attorney’s fees relating to the appeal.  An appellate court has jurisdiction to award appellate attorney’s fees. Bartow HMA, LLC v. Kirkland, 146 So.3d 1213, 1215 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014).   “Once the appellate court determines that an award of appellate attorney’s fees is appropriate, a mandate is issued to the trial court to impose the fees after conducting a hearing. Absent a mandate, the trial court has no jurisdiction to award appellate attorney’s fees.” Respiratory Care Services, Inc. v. Murray D. Shear, P.A., 715 So.2d 1054, 1056 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Litigating the Amount of Contractual Attorney’s Fees

Posted by David Adelstein on April 14, 2017
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Recovering attorney’s fees is a vital component of many claims. Parties that have a contractual or statutory basis to recover attorney’s fees want to know they will get a judgment for reasonable attorney’s fees if they prevail in the underlying action.   This oftentimes results in litigating the amount of fees.

There is authority that when parties seek fees pursuant to a statute, they are not entitled to fees associated with litigating the amount of fees. See State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Palma, 629 So.2d 830 (Fla. 1993).

What about if a party seeks fees pursuant to a contract? Can the party recover attorney’s fees associated with litigating the amount of contractual fees?  The answer is it depends on the contractual attorney’s fees provision. The broader the scope the greater the chance a party will be entitled to attorney’s fees for litigating the amount of contractual fees owed to the prevailing party.

In Trial Practices, Inc. v. Hahn Loeser & Parks, LLP, 42 Fla.L.Weekly D848a (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), the Second District addressed whether a prevailing party is entitled to recover contractual attorney’s fees associated with litigating the amount of reasonable attorney’s fees.   The Court held yes based on the scope of the contractual attorney’s fees provision since contracting parties are free to contract on the scope and issue of attorney’s fees.

The provision at-issue read in material part:

…prevailing party in any action arising from or relating to this agreement will be entitled to recover all expenses of any nature incurred in any way in connection with the matter, whether incurred before litigation, during litigation, in an appeal, . . . or in connection with enforcement of a judgment, including, but not limited to, attorneys’ and experts’ fees.

The court held that this language in the attorney’s fees provision was broad enough to encompass fees associated with litigating the amount of fees.

Remember, contracting parties are fee to negotiate and contract on the issue of attorney’s fees.  Based on the provision, a prevailing party will be entitled to attorney’s fees for litigating the amount of fees.  This perhaps may make a party think twice regarding litigating the amount of contractual fees if the issue can get resolved without an evidentiary proceeding on the amount. 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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