Friday Florida Law Update- Offers of Judgment (Again!)

Hello all, and welcome to your Friday Florida Law Update and our second post today! 

Well, it’s back.  Our favorite Florida legal issue — the Offer of Judgment statute! (Sec. 768.79).  We have discussed this well-intentioned but impossible to implement creature at least three times in previous weeks, and it has reared its ugly head again.  As another refresher, the offer of judgment is a statutory settlement tool whereby either party may tender an unconditional settlement offer which remains open for 30 days, and if the other party declines and ultimately does 25% worse at trial (or on summary judgment) than what the offer was, they have to pay the offeror’s attorney’s fees from the date of the offer.

Case law over the years has done its share to take almost all of the teeth out of this statute.  Today’s case is no different.  In Winter Park Imports, Inc. v. JM Family Enterprises, 2011 WL 2581758 (Fla. 5th DCA July 1, 2011), the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that monetary offers of judgment to settle the entire case are inapplicable in cases where the Plaintiff seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.  In Winter Park, Lexus of Orlando sought injunctive relief to prevent Defendant from opening JM Lexus dealerships in Orange County, Margate, or to open any unlicensed dearlership anywhere in Florida.  Plaintiff also sought monetary damages pursuant to Florida’s Motor Vehicle Dealer Act.

During discovery, JM Lexus served an Offer of Judgment for monetary relief which purported to settle the entire claim, which Plaintiff declined.  JM Lexus ultimately prevailed on summary judgment.  After JM Lexus sought to collect its attorney’s fees, the trial court refused, holding that an offer of judgment for monetary relief only could not be applied to a claim for both monetary and non-monetary relief. 

On appeal, the Fifth DCA agreed, aligning itself with a 4th DCA opinion from 2009, reasoning that the attorney’s fee award is a sanction against the rejecting party for the refusal to accept what is presumed to be a reasonable offer.  Because the statute is penal in nature, it must be strictly construed in favor of the one against whom the penalty is imposed and is never to be extended by construction.

In this case, to require a party to accept a monetary offer and abandon its injunction claims to avoid the risk of a penal attorney’s fee award would create an injustice in the eyes of the Court.  However, the Court did not forego the possibility of a valid Offer of Judgment in this scenario if the offer did not require the Plaintiff to dismiss its injunction claims as well.  Of course, you are more likely to see pigs fly than to see the defendant serve an offer of judgment that does not completely resolve the case. 

Honestly, if the drafters of this statute knew all the litigation it would create, there’s no way it ever would have passed!  Have a great long weekend, all.  We’ll be back on Tuesday with the rest of ya!

 

DISCLOSURE:

 THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Explore posts in the same categories: Florida Law Updates

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