Puleo v. Morris

Decision Date03 October 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2D08–4924.,2D08–4924.
Citation98 So.3d 248
PartiesJoseph PULEO and Florida Pool Finishers, Inc., Appellants, v. Alan MORRIS and Performance Materials, Inc., Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Brett Wadsworth of Brett Wadsworth, L.C., Tampa, for Appellants.

No appearance for Appellees.

WALLACE, Judge.

Joseph Puleo and Florida Pool Finishers, Inc. (FPF), challenge a postjudgment order awarding them $146,500 in attorney's fees, $1500 in expert witness fees, and $1753.66 in costs against Alan Morris.1 The circuit court's award for attorney's fees was for an amount substantially less than that sought by Mr. Puleo and FPF. Because the circuit court substantially reduced the amount of the fees requested without making findings concerning the number of hours compensable, the reasonable hourly rate, and any other factors considered in arriving at the amount of the award, we reverse the order and remand for the entry of a new order.

I. THE FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The litigation in the circuit court involved a claim by Mr. Morris and PerformanceMaterials, Inc. (Performance), for the enforcement of a covenant not to compete. Mr. Puleo and FPF ultimately obtained a final summary judgment against Mr. Morris and Performance. Thereafter, Mr. Puleo and FPF moved to tax attorney's fees and costs, asserting that they were entitled to an award of attorney's fees for defending the action under section 542.335(1)(k), Florida Statutes (2001), among other grounds. Section 542.335(1)(k) provides, in pertinent part, that [i]n the absence of a contractual provision authorizing an award of attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing party, a court may award attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing party in any action seeking enforcement of, or challenging the enforceability of, a restrictive covenant.”

At the hearing on the motion to tax attorney's fees and costs, the circuit court first determined that as the prevailing parties, Mr. Puleo and FPF were entitled to recover their reasonable attorney's fees and costs under section 542.335(1)(k). Next, Mr. Puleo and FPF introduced into evidence the detailed time and billing records prepared by their counsel, Brett Wadsworth, P.A., and Gatlin & Birch, P.A., as Exhibits A and B respectively. Mr. Wadsworth requested a total of $204,310 in attorney's fees; the amount requested for Mr. Gatlin of Gatlin & Birch was $18,555. Mr. Wadsworth, Mr. Puleo, and an expert witness testified in support of the fees requested. Counsel for Mr. Morris cross-examined Mr. Wadsworth and the movants' expert witness, but she did not offer any evidence in opposition to the fee motion.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court awarded all of the costs requested. However, with regard to the attorney's fees, the court ruled as follows:

I don't doubt that you expended all those hours in the case. I have to make a determination what I think is reasonable in light of this case. I know it stretched over several years.

....

A reasonable fee will be $135,000 for Mr. Wadsworth. And Mr. Gatlin—

....

$11,500. Looking at the Exhibit A and B and that's what I determined is a reasonable fee in this case. And I'm not questioning the time you put in, I'm not questioning your rate, it's reasonable. I think with this litigation, three volumes, court files, that's what I think is reasonable.

After the hearing, the circuit court entered an amended final order awarding Mr. Puleo and FPF $135,000 in attorney's fees for Mr. Wadsworth's services and $11,500 in attorney's fees for Mr. Gatlin's services. The order does not contain any findings concerning the reasonable number of hours expended by each attorney, reasonable hourly rates for their services, or any other factors considered by the circuit court in its ruling substantially reducing the requested attorney's fees. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

On appeal, Mr. Puleo and FPF argue that the circuit court erred in entering an order significantly reducing the requested amounts of attorney's fees without making any findings concerning the reasonable hours expended, the reasonable hourly rates, or the specific reasons for reducing the requested fees. We agree. See Fla. Patient's Comp. Fund v. Rowe, 472 So.2d 1145, 1151 (Fla.1985); see also Riveiro v. J. Cheney Mason, P.A., 82 So.3d 1094, 1098 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (holding that the trial court erred in making a fee award without making findings concerning the reasonable hourly rate and the amount of hours reasonably expended); Pridgen v. Agoado, 901 So.2d 961, 962 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005) (“Florida law requires a trial court to support an award of attorney's fees with specific findings as to a reasonable hourly rate and the hours reasonably expended litigating the issues.”); Highlands Carpentry Serv., Inc. v. Connone, 873 So.2d 611, 613 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004) (“When determining an hourly rate and the number of hours reasonably expended, a trial court is required to set forth specific findings.”). ...

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8 cases
  • K3 Enters. v. Sasowski
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • June 13, 2022
    ... ... enter [] an award [of fees pursuant to section 542.335(1)(k)] ... if authorized to do so.” Id. (citing Puleo ... v. Morris, 98 So.3d 248, 250 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012); Sun ... Group, 890 So.2d at 412) ...          As ... noted ... ...
  • Lizardi v. Federated Nat'l Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 11, 2021
    ...requires a specific explanation if a trial court reduces requested fees without regard to the lodestar amount. See Puleo v. Morris , 98 So. 3d 248, 249-50 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (applying Rowe requirement where trial court awarded lump sums that were significantly less than what was requested b......
  • El Brazo Fuerte Bakery 2 v. 24 Hour Air Serv., Inc.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • November 24, 2021
    ...they make specific findings to support that determination ." Lizardi , 322 So. 3d at 189 (emphasis added); see also Puleo v. Morris , 98 So. 3d 248, 250 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) ("[Appellants] ask that on remand we direct the circuit court to award them attorney's fees in amounts consistent with ......
  • El Brazo Fuerte Bakery 2 v. 24 Hour Air Serv.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • November 24, 2021
    ... ... determination." Lizardi, 322 So.3d at 189 ... (emphasis added); see also Puleo v. Morris, 98 So.3d ... 248, 250 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) ("[Appellants] ask that on ... remand we direct the circuit court to award them ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • When Will Florida Courts Award Attorney's Fees In Non-Compete Litigation?
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • April 23, 2013
    ...the action regardless of whether the employee was the one who actually paid for the legal services. Id. at 1061. In Puleo v. Morris, 98 So.3d 248 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012), the Second District also awarded attorney's fees to the prevailing party under Fla. Stat. § 542.335(1)(k). In Puleo the emplo......

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