There can be a Winner for Prevailing Party Attorney’s Fees when Both Parties Lose
From reviewing prior articles on attorney’s fees, you know that to be deemed the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees, particularly under a contractual based claim, a party needs to prevail on the significant issues in the case.
What if a plaintiff has asserted a claim against a defendant and a defendant has a asserted a claim against the plaintiff and both parties LOSE on their affirmative claims? Can a party still be deemed to prevail on the significant issues in the case? That answer is yes based on the holding by the Second District Court of Appeals in Carrollwood Cove at Emerald Greens Condominium Association, Inc. v. Carrollwood Cove, LLC, 46 Fla.L.Weekly D926a (Fla. 2d DCA 2021).
In this case, a developer sued a condominium association to recover overpayments. The association raised thirteen affirmative defenses and filed a counterclaim against the developer (and asserted claims against directors). The developer raised fourteen affirmative defenses to the counterclaim. All of these claims and defenses played out in a nonjury trial. The trial court ruled that the developer failed to prove its claims and the association proved its burden on five affirmative defenses. The trial court also ruled that the association failed to prove its counterclaims. The parties filed competing motions for attorney’s fees claiming they each prevailed on the significant issues. The trial court found neither party was the prevailing party for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees.
On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals reversed holding that the association prevailed on the significant issues in the case by satisfying its burden on five affirmative defenses and defeating the developer’s complaint. The Court explained:
The prevailing party for purposes of attorney fees is a party that the trial court determines prevailed on significant issues in the litigation. “[I]n the absence of a plaintiff’s success on some theory of recovery, under Florida law, the lack of success by a defendant on a counterclaim does not disqualify a defendant from ‘prevailing party’ status in the litigation.”
Carrollwood Cove at Emerald Greens Condominium Association, supra, (citations omitted).
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