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Gozzo Development, Inc. v. Esker

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 22, 2017

GOZZO DEVELOPMENT, INC., and GREGORY GOZZO, an individual, Appellants,
v.
ANNE M. ESKER, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Thomas Barkdull, III and Richard L. Oftedal, Judges; L.T. Case No. 50-2005-CA-011607-XXX-MB.

          Michael A. Monteverde and Daniel B. Allison of Bressler Amery & Ross, P.C., Fort Lauderdale, for appellants.

          Tara S. Pellegrino and Jacqueline S. Miller of Broad and Cassel LLP, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          GROSS, J.

         This case involves a civil contempt arising out of a construction defects case commenced in 2005. We affirm the finding of contempt in all respects. Because the compensatory fine imposed included losses not caused by the underlying contempt, we reverse for a new hearing on the amount of the compensatory fine imposed.

         After nine years of litigation, the circuit court issued an order setting a non-binding summary jury trial and mediation. Appellant Gregory Gozzo was affiliated with both a remodeling company and a developer that had been named as defendants.

         Gozzo attended the summary jury trial as the representative of the remodeling company and the developer. The summary jury trial produced a favorable outcome for the plaintiffs.

         At the later mediation, the defendants sent a woman who was not a corporate representative and who did not have the authority to settle on behalf of the defendants.

         The circuit judge issued an order to show cause to the defendants as to why they should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the court's order regarding the person who was required to attend mediation. For each party to the lawsuit, the mediation order required the presence of a person with authority to settle the case.

         At the hearing on the order to show cause, Gozzo explained that the woman he sent to the mediation was a home health aide who had served as a caregiver for Gozzo's elderly father during the time prior to his father's death, had worked sixteen-hour days, and was always on time. Gozzo acknowledged that she never held a position with the company but testified that he gave her verbal authority to settle. The home health aide said that Gozzo told her nothing about the case until after her attendance at mediation and that she did not have authority to settle. Gozzo testified that he did not attend the mediation because he had "other things" to do and "other business" on his plate.

         The circuit court found the defendants in contempt; as sanctions, the court struck defense pleadings and ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to recover attorney's fees and costs "related" to (1) preparation for and attendance at the summary jury trial, (2) attendance at mediation, (3) preparation of motions for sanctions and preparation for and attendance at all hearings related to those motions, and (4) depositions taken in advance of the contempt hearing.

         The defendants appealed the portion of the order striking the pleading. This court affirmed the imposition of the sanction. See Gozzo Development, Inc. v. Professional Roofing Contractors, Inc., 211 So.3d 145 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).

         A successor judge presided over the hearing on the plaintiff's attorney's fees and costs. That judge entered judgment for $122, 518.78 in attorney's fees ...


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