Black v. BEDFORD AT LAKE CATHERINE ASS'N, INC., 4D01-1127.

Decision Date12 December 2001
Docket NumberNo. 4D01-1127.,4D01-1127.
Citation801 So.2d 252
PartiesCraig G. BLACK and Lucille P. Black, Appellants, v. BEDFORD AT LAKE CATHERINE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., John B. Kern, Gus Constantine, Dale Peterson and Larry J. Bailey, Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

John M. Jorgensen and Kevin M. Wager of Scott, Harris, Bryan, Barra & Jorgensen, Palm Beach Gardens, for appellants.

Susan Kent, West Palm Beach, for appellees.

TAYLOR, J.

Homeowners Craig and Lucille Black (appellants) appeal a final order denying their motion for attorney's fees in their action against the Bedford at Lake Catherine Homeowners Association (Association). We reverse because the trial court erred in denying contractually mandated attorney's fees to appellants as the prevailing party.

Appellants own a home in Bedford at Lake Catherine. This action began as a dispute between appellants and the Association concerning appellants' property line and a three-foot easement provided for in the Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions for Bedford at Lake Catherine (Declaration). Appellants filed a total of six counts against the Association. Of the six counts, four were brought under the Declaration, which provides for an award of reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party. The court granted summary judgment in favor of appellants on three of these counts. The fourth count was never fully adjudicated due to a stipulation by the Association rendering that count moot.

Appellants presented evidence of their fees and costs, including expert evidence of reasonableness. There was no dispute as to the reasonableness of the hourly rate or the clients' payment of said fees. Yet, after awarding costs to appellants, the trial court denied their motion for fees. Appellants argue that the trial court abused its discretion in denying them contractually based attorney's fees because they were the prevailing party on all four counts. The Association disputes that appellants were the prevailing party on any of the counts. They also contend that appellants failed to plead and prove entitlement to such fees.

As stated above, four counts of the Second Consolidated Complaint arose out of a violation of the Declaration. Article XV of the Declaration, entitled "Enforcement of Declaration," states in pertinent part:

The enforcement of this Declaration may be by proceeding at law for damages or in equity to compel compliance with its terms or to prevent violation or breach of any of the covenants or terms herein.... Should the party seeking enforcement be the prevailing party in any action, then the person against whom enforcement has been sought shall pay all costs and reasonable attorney's fees at all trial and appellate levels to the prevailing party.

The standard of review for an award of attorney's fees is abuse of discretion. Hartleb v. Dep't of Transp., 711 So.2d 228 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998). We have held that "[w]here a contract provides attorney's fees for the prevailing party, the trial judge is without discretion to decline to enforce the provision." Hutchinson v. Hutchinson, 687 So.2d 912, 913 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997); see also Rose v. Rose, 615 So.2d 203, 204 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993)

. The

test used by this court to determine the prevailing party is "whether the party succeed[ed] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Munao, Munao, Munao and Munao v. Homeowners Ass'n of La Buona Vita Mobile Home Park, Inc., 740 So.2d 73, 78 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999)(internal citations omitted).

The record and the rulings below reflect that appellants were the prevailing party on each of the four counts:

• In Count I appellants sought to enjoin the Association from modifying their rights and obligations under a certain easement on their property.1 The court granted summary judgment for appellants on this issue. Although no injunction was actually issued, the effect of the ruling was to stop the Association from modifying appellants' property lines.
• In Counts IV and V, appellants sought declaratory and injunctive relief to stop the Association from assessing attorney's fees against them without notice and a hearing. The court granted partial summary judgment on these counts. Although no injunction was issued, the attorney's fees assessment was cancelled because of the order.
• In Count VI appellants sought declaratory relief as to whether they were required to obtain permission before removing a palm tree from their property. The court dismissed this count after the Association stipulated that it would no longer require appellants to replace the tree. Later, the trial court ruled that the dismissal based on the Association's voluntary stipulation resulted in appellants being the prevailing party for purposes of assessing attorney's fees under 51 Island Way Condo. Ass'n v. Williams, 458 So.2d 364 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984). This determination was reinforced at a later hearing.

In sum, appellants prevailed on all four of the counts brought under the Declaration. The parties' dispute...

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3 cases
  • Cooper v. Ford & Sinclair, PA
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • November 17, 2004
    ...The standard of review for a trial court order awarding such fees is abuse of discretion. Black v. Bedford At Lake Catherine Homeowners Ass'n., 801 So.2d 252, 253 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); In re Melcher's Estate, 319 So.2d 192 (Fla. 4th DCA In this case, Kelly and her attorneys reasonably believ......
  • Bateman v. Service Ins. Co., 3D02-1924.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • February 12, 2003
    ...hearing. The standard of review for an award of attorney's fees is abuse of discretion. See Black v. Bedford at Lake Catherine Homeowners Ass'n, Inc., 801 So.2d 252, 253 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (citations omitted). Prior to awarding attorney's fees for services already rendered and for costs al......
  • Dribin v. Estate of Nolan, 4D01-1006.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • December 12, 2001
1 books & journal articles
  • Containing Canakaris: tailoring Florida's one-size-fits-most standard of review.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 78 No. 4, April 2004
    • April 1, 2004
    ...2002). (49) Way v. State, 760 So. 2d 903, 911, 913 (Fla. 2000). (50) See Black v. Bedford At Lake Catherine Homeowners Ass'n, Inc., 801 So. 2d 252, 253 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2001); Gibbs Const. Co. v. S. L. Page Corp., 755 So. 2d 787, 790 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. (51) Samborn v. State, 666 So. 2d 937,939......

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