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Florida Third DCA affirms trial court's denial of prevailing defendant's motion for attorney's fees

On November 21, 2018, in Starboard Cruise Services, Inc. v. DePrince, No. 3D16-2009, the Florida Third DCA affirmed a trial court’s denial of the prevailing defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees. The motion for fees was based on the plaintiff’s previous failure to accept the defendant’s proposal for settlement submitted pursuant to section 768.79, Florida Statutes, and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.442. The defendant’s proposal for settlement was determined to be defective because it included a proposed release of plaintiff’s equitable claims. Section 768.79 provides that offers of judgment apply only to “any civil action for damages.” In Diamond Aircraft Industries, Inc. v. Horowitch, 107 So. 3d 362, 374 (Fla. 2013), the Florida Supreme Court concluded that section 768.79 does not apply to an action in which a plaintiff seeks both damages and equitable relief, and where the defendant has served a general offer of judgment that seeks the release of all claims. The defendant sought to distinguish the instant case from the Diamond Aircraft Industries precedent on the basis of the “true relief” doctrine. While the Florida Supreme Court in Diamond Aircraft Industries had specifically acknowledged the potential applicability of the true relief doctrine, the Third DCA determined it was inapplicable in this case because the plaintiff had actively litigated the equitable relief claim and had only abandoned it shortly before trial and well after the proposal for settlement had been rejected.

On the same date, November 21, 2018, the Florida Fourth DCA made a similar ruling in Southern Specialties v. Farmhouse Tomatoes, No. 4D17-2933, reversing an award of attorney’s fees because the underlying offer of judgment invalidly attempted to settle both monetary and equitable claims.