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Florida First DCA reverses trial court award of fees and costs to defense based on plaintiffs' denial of requests for admissions on contested matters that were central issues in the case

On January 29, 2018, in R.J. Reynolds v. Ward, No. 1D15-5765, the Florida First DCA reversed a trial court’s award of fees and costs pursuant to Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.380(c) to the prevailing defendant in an Engle progeny tobacco case. The trial court had awarded $981,116.23 in fees and costs to the defense, representing expenses related to the plaintiffs’ denial of sixteen requests for admissions. On appeal, the First DCA noted that Rule 1.380(c) expressly does not apply where there was “good reason” for the failure to admit, quoting Arena Parking, Inc. v. Lon Worth Crow Ins. Agency, 768 So. 2d 1107, 1113 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000): “expenses incurred by a successful litigant as a result of the opposing party's failure to admit requests for admissions may not be assessed against the opposing party for denying a request to admit a hotly-contested, central issue to the case.” See also Shaw v. State ex rel. Butterworth, 616 So. 2d 1094, 1096 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (affirming denial of attorney's fees after a trial in which the defendants prevailed after the plaintiff denied a request for admission on the central issue in the case); Hahamovitch v. Hahamovitch, 133 So. 3d 1020, 1024 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (holding attorney’s fees cannot be awarded for a parties failure to admit a “hotly contested, central issue of fact in the case”). The First DCA concluded that the requests for admissions pertained to contested matters that were central issues in the case.