Courts blow Proposal for Settlement doors wide open in wake of Supreme Court case

Following the Supreme Court of Florida's decision in Kuhajda v. Borden Dairy Co., 41 Fla. L. Weekly S471 (Fla. October 20, 2016), we noted ambiguity in the landscape of proposals for settlement would likely lead to a slippery slope of formerly fatal technical deficiencies that would now be potentially acceptable for purposes of awarding fees.  That slope appears to be drawing some early action within the Second District in the case of Polk Cty. v. Highlands-In-The-Woods, L.L.C., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1135 (Fla. 2d DCA May 19, 2017).

As we previously noted, prior to the Kuhajda decision, the Supreme Court of Florida's precedent from Diamond Aircraft Industries, Inc. v. Horowitch, 107 So. 3d 362 (Fla. 2013), even minute and seemingly irrelevant technical deficiencies could render an offer of judgment invalid for the purpose of seeking attorneys' fees .   Under that precedent, courts had invalidated offers on the basis of failure to state both whether attorneys’ fees were included in the offer and whether they were sought in the claim (i.e., simply stating one or the other would not suffice). Deer Valley Realty, Inc. v. SB Hotel Assocs. LLC, 190 So. 3d 203, 205 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).

However, in Polk Cty. v. Highlands-In-The-Woods, L.L.C., the Second District held that the offering party did not need to address specifically the issue of attorneys' fees in the offer, did not need to address the issue of punitive damages in the offer, and did not need to address the issue of injunctive relief in the offer.  In essence, where there may have been previously three potentially fatal deficiencies, the Second DCA found none.  The Court reversed the trial court's denial of the motion for attorneys' fees premised on the offer of judgment at issue and remanded to determine the amount of fees that were to be awarded. 

The landscape of procedural mechanisms for obtaining attorneys' fees is shifting potentially now more than ever.  The help of an experienced litigation attorney could mean the difference in thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees awarded either for or against a litigant.  Reach out to the attorneys of Icard Merrill today if you have questions or need help.