L. Ross, Inc. v. R.W. Roberts Const. Co., Inc., 84-168

Decision Date31 January 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-168,84-168
Citation10 Fla. L. Weekly 285,466 So.2d 1096
Parties10 Fla. L. Weekly 285 L. ROSS, INC., a Florida corporation, Appellant, v. R.W. ROBERTS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC., et al., Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Charles E. Davis of Fishback, Davis, Dominick, Bennett, Foster, Owens & Watts, Orlando, for appellant.

H. David Luff and William Mims, Jr. of Sanders, McEwan, Mims & McDonald, Orlando, for appellees.

COWART, Judge.

This case involves the retroactive application of a statutory amendment which repealed a limitation on the amount of attorney's fees made recoverable by statute in certain actions. 1

Section 627.428 (formerly section 627.0127), Florida Statutes (1983), permits the recovery of attorney's fees when insureds recover judgments against insurers. Section 627.756 (formerly 627.0905), Florida Statutes (1983), extends the application of section 627.428 to actions in which owners, laborers, materialmen and subcontractors recover judgments against sureties in actions on payment bonds. Section 627.756 originally contained a qualifying provision limiting attorney's fees to not more than twelve and one-half percent of the judgment recovered. By statutory amendment effective October 1, 1982, this limitation on the amount of attorney's fees was repealed. Appellant, a subcontractor, had an action pending against appellee Transamerica Insurance Company on a payment bond when the twelve and a half percent limitation was repealed. The trial court limited appellant's recovery of attorney's fees to twelve and a half percent and appellant argues on appeal that the judgment in the case not having been entered at the time of the statutory amendment repealing the limitation appellant was entitled to the benefit of the statutory amendment and the limitation should not have been applied to the attorney's fees recoverable in this case.

Sections 627.428 and 627.756, Florida Statutes (1983), which bestow a right of attorney's fees, are understandably considered beneficial, curative, and remedial by the favored class (insureds, owners, laborers, materialmen and subcontractors) but as to the class on whom those statutes impose an obligation or burden to pay attorney's fees (insurers and sureties), those statutes are detrimental, burdensome, even penal. 2 Likewise a legislative amendment increasing the statutory obligation or burden to pay attorney's fees by repealing a limitation on that obligation or burden is viewed as remedial or penal depending on whose ox is being gored. Therefore, these partisan views are really not helpful in resolving the basic substantive versus procedural dichotomy which controls the problem of prospective versus retroactive application of a statute.

It is argued that the statutory amendment repealing the limitation effective October 1, 1982, should be applied retroactively because it is procedural because it merely confers a remedy which affects only the measure of damages for vindication of an existing substantive right. This argument fails to recognize that substantive rights do not exist in an absolute binary world but are relative and are often a matter of degree and that damages always follow the right and that any change in a substantive right normally changes the amount of damages resulting from a breach of that substantive right. Therefore, it cannot be reasoned that a statutory change that affects and changes the measure of damages is merely "remedial" and thus, procedural, and, therefore is not a change in the substantive law giving the substantive right which is the basis for the damages.

Statutes, such as 627.428, Florida Statutes (1983), which create a new right to attorney's fees creates a substantive right 3 in favor of a limited class of potential plaintiffs (insureds) and a substantive burden or obligation upon a limited class of potential defendants (insurers). The right to an attorney's fee is substantive because it gives to a party who did not have that right the legal right to recover substance (money!) from a party who did not theretofore have the legal obligation to render or pay that money. The right is not merely a new or different remedy to enforce an already existing right and is, for that reason, not merely procedural. 4

Likewise, a statute, such as section 627.756, Florida Statutes (1983), which extends the application of an existing statute which itself created substantive rights and obligations (such as section 627.428) to an additional class of prospective parties creates as to the newly affected class of parties, substantive rights in the additional class of potential plaintiffs (owners, laborers, materialmen and subcontractors) and substantive obligations upon the additional class of potential defendants (sureties).

Substantive rights and obligations created by statutes do not vest and accrue as to particular parties until the accrual of a particular cause of action giving rise to the substantive rights and obligations in a particular instance. Substantive rights and obligations as to the receipt and payment of attorney's fees is somewhat particular because, whether those rights and obligations are viewed as a separate cause of action, or as costs taxed in another, underlying, cause of action, they are ordinarily merely incidental to the other, underlying, cause of action and, in a sense, the right to receive, as well as the reciprocal obligation to pay, attorney's fees, is merely ancillary to, and an incident of, the accrual of the underlying cause of action concerning which the right to recover attorney's fees is given. Therefore the right to recover attorney's fees ancillary to another particular underlying cause of action always accrues at the time the other, underlying, cause of action accrues. This means substantive rights and obligations as to attorney's fees in particular types of litigation vest and accrue as of the time the underlying cause of action accrues.

It is a facet of constitutional due process that, after they vest, substantive rights cannot be adversely affected by the enactment of legislation. Likewise, but conversely, it is fundamentally unfair and unjust for the legislature to...

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20 cases
  • Hyster Co. v. David
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • January 21, 1993
    ...cause of action giving rise to the substantive rights and obligations in a particular instance." L. Ross, Inc. v. R.W. Roberts Construction Co., 466 So.2d 1096, 1098 (Fla. 5th DCA1985), aff'd, 481 So.2d 484 We have not overlooked the recent decision in Shova v. Eller, 606 So.2d 400 (Fla. 2d......
  • Gordon v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 1991
    ...created by statute do not vest until the accrual of the cause of action which gives rise to them. L. Ross, Inc. v. R.W. Roberts Const. Co., 466 So.2d 1096 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985), aff'd, 481 So.2d 484 (Fla.1986). For all these reasons, we summarily reject the contention that the state has inval......
  • All Underwriters v. Weisberg
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • August 18, 2000
    ...remedy to enforce an already existing right and is, for that reason, not merely procedural. See L. Ross, Inc. v. R.W. Roberts Constr. Co., Inc., 466 So.2d 1096, 1098 (Fla.App. 5th Dist.1985). Accordingly, we hold that Fla. Stat. § 627.428 is substantive law for Erie B. Are Attorney's Fees A......
  • Xanadu of Cocoa Beach, Inc. v. Lenz
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • March 26, 1987
    ...in the case has been concluded. See N.C.N. Electric, Inc. v. Leto, 498 So.2d 1377 (Fla.2d DCA 1986).5 Cf. L. Ross, Inc. v. R.W. Roberts Const. Co., 466 So.2d 1096 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985), approved, 481 So.2d 484 (Fla.1986) (crucial date for determination of due process limitation on legislative......
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