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Florida Second DCA rules that proposal for settlement provisions applied to styled declaratory judgment action which sought damages rather than equitable remedies

On May 19, 2017, in Polk County v. Highlands-in-the-Woods, LLC, No. 2D15-5642, the Florida Second DCA reversed the trial court’s denial of the prevailing defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees based on an unaccepted proposal for settlement. The trial court had denied the motion for reasons left unstated in the Second DCA’s decision, but the trial court’s ruling apparently was based on the on the fact that the complaint in the case had been styled as a declaratory judgment action, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff was seeking monetary damages rather than any equitable relief. See Diamond Aircraft Indus., Inc. v. Horowitch, 107 So. 3d 362, 374 (Fla. 2013) ("section 768.79 does not apply to an action in which a plaintiff seeks both damages and equitable relief) and in which the defendant has served a general offer of judgment that seeks release of all claims."). The Second DCA concluded that the complaint was essentially an action for damages rather than for equitable relief, noting that when determining whether a complaint alleges an action for damages or one for equitable relief, Florida courts "look[] to whether the 'real issue' is one for damages" or equitable relief. Quoting Nat'l Indem. Co. of the S. v. Consol. Ins. Servs., 778 So. 2d 404, 408 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); see also DiPompeo Constr. Corp. v. Kimmel & Assocs., 916 So. 2d 17 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005). The Court also rejected a challenge to the proposal based on its failure to identify the various elements of damages, including punitive damages, concluding that this was unnecessary because (i) the proposal indicated that it was intended to resolve all claims identified in the complaint, and (ii) the plaintiff had not asserted any claim for punitive damages.