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Florida Fourth DCA reverses trial court’s award of attorney’s fees to prevailing party on motion to compel discovery, finds that trial court applied wrong standard for award

On February 20, 2019, in Federal Express Corporation v. Charria, No. 4D18-1154, the Florida Fourth DCA reversed a trial court order requiring the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees under F. R. Civ. P. 1.380(a)(4) for the time plaintiff’s attorney spent litigating a motion to compel better answers to the plaintiff’s interrogatories.  The Fourth DCA pointed out that the trial court’s order had incorrectly referred to the Rule 1.380(a)(4) as the “prevailing party” rule, even though the Rule does not use this phrase.  The Rule instead focuses on whether the objections were “substantially justified,” or whether “other circumstances made an award of expenses unjust.” The Fourth DCA noted that although the trial court acknowledged that some of the defendant’s objections to the discovery demands were well-founded, the trial court awarded the plaintiff for the full numbers of hours spent by counsel  with the only explanation in the written order being that the plaintiff was the “prevailing party.” The Fourth DCA opined that this erroneous view of the law constituted an abuse of discretion, citing Rush v. Burdge, 141 So. 3d 764, 766 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014) (“A trial court . . . abuses its discretion if its ruling is based on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.”)