FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; Kathleen T.
E. Biasotti, of Biasotti Law, St. Petersburg, for Appellant.
M. Wallace, of Akerman LLP, Tallahassee; William P. Heller,
of Akerman LLP, Fort Lauderdale, and Eric M. Levine, of
Akerman LLP, West Palm Beach, for Appellee.
Westaway appeals the trial court's Final Judgment of
Attorneys' Fees and Costs in a foreclosure action brought
against her by Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Westaway argues that
the trial court abused its discretion in (1) sua sponte
reducing her attorneys' reasonable hourly rate, (2)
reducing the paralegal time billed by her attorneys, and (3)
refusing to award a contingency multiplier. After the benefit
of oral argument, we agree that the court abused its
discretion in reducing her attorneys' reasonable hourly
rate, and we reverse and remand for the trial court to
recalculate its award of attorneys' fees based on the
rate that Westaway's attorneys originally requested. In
all other respects, we affirm.
2009, Wells Fargo, acting as trustee of a real estate
investment trust, filed a foreclosure complaint against
Westaway. After five years of litigation, Westaway obtained
an order of involuntary dismissal against Wells Fargo's
claim. This court affirmed the involuntary dismissal on
direct appeal. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Westaway,
182 So.3d 653 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015) (table decision).
prevailing in the underlying foreclosure case, Westaway moved
for attorneys' fees, costs, and a contingency risk
multiplier. The trial court concluded that Westaway was
entitled to fees, but, before the court could determine a
reasonable amount, Wells Fargo's counsel moved to
withdraw. Accordingly, the trial court gave Wells Fargo
thirty days to retain new counsel.
the time came for the hearing on the amount of fees, however,
Wells Fargo was neither present nor represented. Thus, there
was no opposing party to dispute any of the evidence that
Westaway's counsel presented. In addition, the judge
presiding over the hearing was not the judge who had
determined Westaway's entitlement to fees. Westaway's
attorneys requested a lodestar award based on an hourly rate
of $325. In support of that request, an experienced
foreclosure defense attorney, appearing as an expert witness,
testified that such a rate was reasonable.
trial court asked the expert witness how Westaway's
attorneys could charge a rate of $325 an hour given that they
had only had two years of experience when they had taken the
case. The expert witness answered, "I think that is what
attorneys are charging, your Honor." Incredulous, the
court mused, "$325 for a two-year lawyer[?]" The
expert witness responded that he knew the "success
rate" of Westaway's counsel and that they were
"certainly worth $325 an hour."
conclusion of Westaway's evidence, the trial court made a
lengthy oral ruling, chastising Westaway's attorneys for
what the court perceived as (1) overbilling secretarial work
by labeling it as paralegal work and (2) requesting a
contingency multiplier in a case where a multiplier was
unwarranted. With respect to the hourly rate, the court again
expressed personal disbelief that attorneys with two years of
experience could reasonably command $325 an hour and noted
that, as the fact finder, it was not required to accept the
expert's testimony "as gospel." On June 9,
2016, the trial court rendered its Final Judgment of
Attorneys' Fees and Costs. Paragraph two of the judgment
provides, in pertinent part:
2. Pursuant to the factors to be considered in determining
the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees outlined in
Rule 4-1.5, Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, and
under Florida Patient's Compensation Fund v.
Rowe, 472 So.2d. 1145 (Fla. 1985), the rate of $200 per
hour from August 4, 2010, through December 21, 2012, and the
rate of $250.00 an hour from January 2013 through the
conclusion of this matter is a reasonable hourly rate . . .
given the ...