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Borden Dairy Co. of Alabama, LLC, et al. v. Susanne L. Kuhajda, Case No. 1D14-4706 (1st DCA)

In Kuhajda, the First District reversed the trial court’s order granting entitlement to attorneys’ fees pursuant to proposals for settlement served under section 768.79 of the Florida Statutes. The plaintiff had served proposals for settlement on each of the defendants that specified that they included costs, interest and all damages or monies recoverable under the complaint and by law. A jury later returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff that met the mathematical threshold under section 768.79. The defendants argued the proposals were invalid because they failed to state whether they included attorneys’ fees and whether attorneys’ fees were part of the legal claim, as required by Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.442(c)(2)(F). The trial court disagreed with the defendants, finding no ambiguity because the plaintiff never sought attorneys’ fees in her complaint. The trial court therefore granted the motion to tax attorneys’ fees and costs against the defendants.

On appeal, the First District noted that the Florida Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the statute and rule governing proposals for settlement “must be strictly construed.” The First District ruled that the plaintiff failed to strictly comply with Rule 1.442(c)(2)(F) when she failed to state in the offers of judgment whether the offers included attorneys’ fees and whether attorneys’ fees were part of the legal claim. The court noted that in a case where the plaintiff sought attorneys’ fees in the complaint, the Florida Supreme Court held that an offer of judgment did not strictly comply with Rule 1.442(c)(2)(F) because it did not state the offer included attorneys’ fees and whether attorneys’ fees were part of the legal claim. The First District stated that it saw “no reason why [that] holding would not apply equally to a case where attorneys’ fees were not sought in the complaint.” The First District therefore reversed, and certified conflict with the Fourth District’s opinion in Bennett v. American Learning Systems of Boca Delray, Inc.

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