The Florida Supreme Court will review the First District’s decision in Borden Dairy Co. of Alabama, LLC v. Kuhajda, 171 So. 2d 242 (Fla. 1st DCA Aug. 14, 2015), which certified conflict with the Fourth District’s decision in Bennett v. American Learning Systems of Boca Delray, Inc., 857 So. 2d 986 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). See No. SC15-1682. The conflict centers around whether a plaintiff’s proposal for settlement is unenforceable when it fails to state if it includes attorneys’ fees and if attorneys’ fees were part of the legal claim, as required by Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442(c)(2)(F), when the plaintiff did not seek attorneys’ fees in her complaint.
Sometime before trial, Plaintiff Susanne Kuhajda served on defendants identical offers of judgment that proposed to settle all claims for one lump sum. The offers specified that they included costs, interest, and all damages recoverable under the complaint and by law. The offers, however, failed to state whether they included attorneys’ fees and whether attorneys’ fees were a part of the claim as required by Rule 1.442(c)(2)(F). Plaintiff prevailed on her negligence claim against the defendants and the jury awarded her damages in excess of the amount contained in her offers of judgment. The trial court granted plaintiff’s motion to tax attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to the unaccepted offers of judgment, concluding that the failure to include the attorneys’ fees language did not create an ambiguity because plaintiff never sought attorneys’ fees in her complaint.
The First District reversed. It reasoned that the supreme court has repeatedly held that the rule and statute governing offers of judgment must be strictly construed. The First District found that plaintiff did not 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. To bolster its conclusion, the First District pointed to a supreme court decision that invalidated a similar proposal for settlement where the plaintiff did seek attorneys’ fees in the complaint. It saw “no reason why this holding would not apply equally to a case where attorneys’ fees were not sought in the complaint.”
The Court will not hear oral argument on this case. This article will be updated once the supreme court decides the case.