Parton v. Palomino Lakes Property Owners

Decision Date28 April 2006
Docket NumberNo. 2D05-2640.,2D05-2640.
PartiesJames B. PARTON and Deborah L. Parton, Appellants, v. PALOMINO LAKES PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., a Florida corporation, Ila Vinson, Larry Vinson, Rene Muse, Linda Dreibelbis, and Doug Holden, Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

J. Meredith Wester, Richard Candelora, and Arlene E. Acord of Mechanik Nuccio Williams Hearne & Wester, P.A., Lutz, for Appellants.

J. Scott Taylor, Tampa, for Appellee Doug Holden.

Linda Dreibelbis, pro se.

No appearance for Appellees Palomino Lakes Property Owners Association, Inc., Ila Vinson, Larry Vinson, and Rene Muse.


James B. Parton and Deborah L. Parton appeal an order awarding them attorneys' fees against Appellees Ila Vinson, Larry Vinson, Linda Dreibelbis, and Doug Holden (referred to collectively as "the other owners"). We reverse the fee order and remand for further proceedings.

The parties reside in a deed-restricted community known as Palomino Lakes Subdivision in Pasco County, Florida. The Partons purchased a modular home to place on their property in the subdivision. In August 2000, the other owners, three of whom were officers and directors of Appellee Palomino Lakes Property Owners Association, blockaded the entrance to the subdivision on three occasions to prevent delivery of the Partons' home. They apparently blocked access to the subdivision because they believed the home to be a mobile home, which the deed restrictions prohibited; however, they continued to block access to the Partons' property even after they were informed that the home was a modular home that would be permanently attached to a concrete slab. By obstructing the common roadway, the other owners violated the subdivision's deed restrictions.

On August 7, 2000, the Partons filed a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and asserting a claim for breach of contract based on the violation of the deed restrictions. On August 25, 2000, the trial court entered a temporary injunction in the Partons' favor, enjoining the other owners from interfering with the movement of the modular home to the Partons' property. The Partons later amended their complaint, adding claims for tortious interference with contract and civil conspiracy and seeking punitive damages on the added claims. The tortious interference and conspiracy claims are based on the same conduct which formed the basis for the Partons' claims for injunctive relief and breach of contract. The case was tried on the Partons' third-amended complaint, in which they requested attorneys' fees only in count II, the breach of contract claim.

On November 21, 2003, the jury reached a verdict in favor of the Partons on all claims, awarding $5000 in compensatory damages. The amended final judgment reflects awards against the other owners. However, instead of a joint and several award of $5000, the judgment reflects a pro rata award of $1250 against each individual.1 In a separate trial, the jury awarded punitive damages of $60,000 against Larry Vinson, $40,000 against Ila Vinson, and $50,000 against Linda Dreibelbis. Doug Holden was not involved in the punitive damages trial.

The Partons filed a timely motion for attorneys' fees and costs, and on October 21, 2004, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing. The Partons sought fees as the prevailing party on the claim seeking damages for breach of contract due to the violation of the deed restrictions. The deed restrictions contain the following provision for attorneys' fees and costs:

The failure of any person violating any covenants to correct such violation after ten (10) days notice in writing shall be deemed grounds for legal prosecution against such person to restrain the violation and/or to recover damages for the same. The party bringing the action shall be entitled to recover in addition to any and all damages, costs and disbursements allowed by law, such sum as a court may adjudge to be reasonable for the services of his or her attorneys. If in the event the court finds that these restrictions have been violated, the judgment of the court shall include the assessment of all costs and attorney fees against the person violating these restrictions as a part of the damages.

At the fee hearing, it was noted that the trial on liability and compensatory damages lasted five days. Two of the Partons' attorneys testified at the fee hearing, and the trial court admitted into evidence their detailed time records. The Partons' fee expert testified that the reasonable fee incurred in connection with the dispute was $336,000. This amount reflected a deduction of $26,500 for matters that the expert did not feel were appropriate to be assessed as fees. He further testified that he could not allocate the time expended between the various counts because they all involved the same core set of facts.

In contrast, the other owners' expert testified that the Partons would only be entitled to fees as to the breach of contract count and that a reasonable fee was "somewhere between" $5000 and $11,000. He opined that "the case probably should have concluded after the issuance of an injunction." He did not attempt to allocate the fees as to each count.

After a later nonevidentiary hearing, the trial court rendered its order awarding fees to the Partons. The court found it was clear that the Partons were the prevailing parties in the action and that it was "impossible to allocate between parties or respective counts." The court awarded attorneys' fees of $9900 for fees incurred through the entry of the temporary injunction, "according to the restrictive covenants," and ordered that the other owners were individually liable on a pro rata basis of $2475 each. Then, as to the Vinsons, the court found that they were liable for additional fees based on the Partons' "Offer of Judgment" made pursuant to section 768.79, Florida Statutes (2004).2 The trial court found as follows:

The Court further finds that a reasonable fee for Plaintiffs for post offer of judgment work is $240,000.00. The post offer of judgment amount is 75 percent of the amount testified as reasonable by Plaintiffs' expert, John Raines. The reduction of 25 percent is because the efforts of Plaintiffs' attorneys, as reflected in the time records, seem somewhat inflated, i.e.: it appears that the Plaintiffs' attorneys spent somewhat more time on this case post injunction than what would be reasonably necessary to accomplish their goal. The reduction by 25 percent is an attempt by the court to accommodate for that unnecessary effort. On the other hand, part of the reason for the attorneys['] fees being as much as they are is that this action seems to have been vigorously and expertly defended.

The trial court also awarded costs on a pro rata basis against the other owners. The Partons timely appealed the order awarding attorneys' fees and costs, raising three issues for our review.

First, as to the $9900 in attorneys' fees awarded pursuant to the deed restrictions (and apart from the offer of judgment fees), the Partons contend that the trial court erred in failing to award fees incurred after the entry of the temporary injunction. We agree. A trial court lacks discretion to refuse to award reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party when the deed restrictions contain a provision for attorneys' fees. See Garvin v. Squiers, 502 So.2d 47, 48 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987). The fee provision at issue in Garvin stated that the restrictive covenants could be enforced by an action to restrain the violation or to recover damages and that "[t]he party bringing the action or suit shall be entitled to recover . . . such sum as the court may adjudge to be reasonable for the services of his attorney." Id.

Here, the deed restrictions contain a similar provision that allows a party to bring an action to "restrain the violation and/or to recover damages...

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13 cases
  • Harris v. McKinney
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • October 9, 2009
    ...on its face" standard is applicable to all attorney's fees orders that lack Rowe findings. See Parton v. Palomino Lakes Prop. Owners Ass'n, 928 So.2d 449, 453 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006); Moyle v. Parkland Condo. Ass'n, 898 So.2d 259, 259 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005); Bader v. Meros, Smith & Olney, P.A., 916 ......
  • Lizardi v. Federated Nat'l Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 11, 2021 be excessive if they make specific findings to support that determination. Id. at 250 ; see also Parton v. Palomino Lakes Prop. Owners Ass'n , 928 So. 2d 449, 453 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (noting that in addition to failing to make findings as to the hourly rate and number of hours reasonably ......
  • Lizardi v. Federated Nat'l Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 11, 2021
    ...excessive if they make specific findings to support that determination. Id. at 250; see also Parton v. Palomino Lakes Prop. Owners Ass'n, 928 So. 2d 449, 453 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (noting that in addition to failing to make findings as to the hourly rate and number of hours reasonably expended......
  • Orlando Gateway Partners, LLC v. Good Gateway, LLC (In re Orlando Gateway Partners, LLC), Case No. 6:15-bk-03448-KSJ
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    ...& Techs., Inc., 994 So. 2d 508, 516-17 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 2008). 64. See, e.g., Parton v. Palomino Lakes Prop. Owners Ass'n, Inc., 928 So. 2d 449, 454 (Fla. 2d Dist. Ct. App. 2006) ("The testimony at the fee hearing reflected that the fees could not be apportioned, and in fact, the or......
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