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River Bridge Corp. v. American Somax Ventures

Florida Court of Appeal, Fourth District

November 30, 2011

RIVER BRIDGE CORPORATION, a foreign corporation and River Bridge Realty Corporation, a foreign corporation, Appellants,
v.
AMERICAN SOMAX VENTURES, a Florida General partnership through its Partners, American Home Development Corp., Somax Development Corp., MSF International, Inc., a Florida corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation, a foreign corporation, and Mobil Land and Development Corporation, a foreign corporation, Appellees.

Page 987

Jorge A. Mestre and Ana C. Munoz of Rivero Mestre LLP, Miami and Michael B. Buckley and Bradley T. Guldalian of Buckley & Curtis, St. Petersburg, for appellants.

Gerald F. Richman, Bruce A. Christensen and Michael J. Napoleone of Richman Greer, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellees American Somax Ventures, American Home Development Corp., Somax Development Corp. and MSF International, Inc.

WARNER, J.

Prior to reversal of a judgment of $8,573,804 in favor of appellee, American Somax Ventures (" ASV" ), the trial court

Page 988

entered an award of attorney's fees to the ASV of $3,553,376.09, based upon a lodestar amount and a Rowe contingency factor of 2.0. When the final judgment was reversed, the appellants moved for relief from the attorney's fee judgment, because of the reversal of the underlying judgment. The trial court denied the same without a hearing. We reverse, concluding that a hearing is necessary to determine the proper attorney's fee award.

The protracted dispute in this case arose out of a breach of contract lawsuit commenced by ASV in 2000 against the appellants, River Bridge Corporation and River Bridge Realty Corporation (collectively referred to as " River Bridge" ). A detailed factual history of that litigation is set forth in this court's opinion in River Bridge Corp. v. American Somax Ventures, 18 So.3d 648 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009). In brief, ASV had contracted with River Bridge to build homes in the first pod of a large development owned by River Bridge. Part of the contract obligated River Bridge to build amenities for the development and to market the homes built by ASV. River Bridge also gave ASV a right of first refusal for other pods in the development. ASV did not sell as many homes as it anticipated, and when River Bridge sent notices of its intent to sell the remaining pods, ASV considered these not in compliance with the right of first refusal and as constituting an anticipatory breach of contract.

Eventually, ASV filed suit for breach of contract in 2000. It alleged that River Bridge breached its contract both by failing to construct the amenities and by violating its right of first refusal. It also sued for a violation of the agreement to market the ASV homes.

As set forth in River Bridge, the jury made an award of $1,248,817 as damages for the River Bridge's failure to build the amenities and properly market the property. The remaining sum [$7,324,987] was awarded for lost profits for each of the parcels subsequently built and sold by other builders in breach of the right of first refusal. Id. at 650. River Bridge appealed.

While the appeal was pending, ASV moved for and was awarded fees based upon the contract. The parties stipulated that ASV was entitled to fees as the prevailing party. The trial court applied a 2.0 contingency fee multiplier to a lodestar amount of $1,576,434.85 for an award of attorney's fees in the amount of $3,152,869.70, plus prejudgment interest, resulting in a total fee judgment of $3,553,376.09. River Bridge appealed this judgment.

In River Bridge, this court reversed the award for breach of the right of first refusal, concluding that the testimony supporting the award of lost profits was too speculative to justify recovery. We remanded to the court to vacate that portion of the award. Thus, ASV's recovery was reduced by nearly 85%.

After the reversal, River Bridge moved the court for relief from the attorney's fees judgment, arguing that the trial court should vacate the fee judgment and hold an evidentiary hearing to determine which party prevailed in the underlying action, and the amount of attorney's fees and costs to which that party was entitled. During the pendency of the appeal of the fee judgment, this court relinquished jurisdiction for the trial court to consider appellants' rule 1.540 motion. Without holding an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the motion, stating that it would have awarded the same amount had the jury awarded only the $1,248,817 which was upheld by the appellate court. River Bridge also appeals that order.

Page 989

We address the denial of the motion for relief from judgment first. We hold that the trial court erred in failing to conduct an ...


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