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Inc. v. Davis

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

February 14, 2018

WATER BRIDGE 5 ASSOCIATION, INC., Appellant,
v.
CYNTHIA DAVIS, PERRY DAVIS, "___" DAVIS, CECIL DAVIS, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; John B. Bowman, Judge; L.T. Case No. CACE14-20227.

          Michael R. Bass of Michael R. Bass, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellant.

          No appearance for appellees.

          Conner, J.

         Water Bridge 5 Association, Inc. ("the Association") appeals the final judgment awarding attorney's fees and costs in its favor, contending the award was for a lower amount than supported by the evidence. We agree with the Association's argument as to the award of attorney's fees, due to an inconsistency in the final judgment. However, due to the lack of a transcript of the hearing, we disagree with its argument as to the award of costs. Thus, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions.

         Background

         The case began with the Association filing a complaint against four tenants seeking injunctive relief. A clerk's default was entered against all four tenants, followed by a default final judgment. Thereafter, the Association moved for attorney's fees and costs against the four tenants, attaching to the motion an affidavit of fees and costs reflecting an hourly attorney's fee rate charge of $195 per hour and 31.7 hours of total hours expended and anticipated to be expended to complete the matter, amounting to a total of $6, 181.50 in attorney's fees. In addition, the Association sought $1, 056.63 in costs. The Association also filed an affidavit of another attorney attesting to the reasonableness of the hourly rate and the hours claimed.

         Subsequently, the trial court issued its final judgment awarding the Association attorney's fees and costs as to the four defaulted parties. Although the trial court's findings as to the reasonableness and amount of attorney's fees (31.7 hours at an hourly rate of $195.00) and costs were typed in the final judgment, the total amounts of fees and costs to be awarded were crossed out, with different amounts written over them by hand ($1500 for fees, instead of $6, 181.50; $443.93 for costs, instead of $1, 056.63). Similarly, the typed amount of the total judgment was also crossed out and corrected by hand with initials ($1500 for fees, instead of $6, 181.50; $443.93 for costs, instead of $1, 056.63; $1, 943.93 for total judgment, instead of $7, 238.13).

         The Association filed a motion for rehearing, arguing that the final judgment reflected that the trial court made a finding that 31.7 hours was a reasonable number of hours spent on the case and that the hourly rate of $195 per hour for counsel was reasonable, but that the trial court's award of only $1, 500.00 in fees was inconsistent with those findings. In its motion, the Association argued that nothing had been presented at the hearing contesting the amount of time expended or the hourly rate charged and that the trial court had not expressed why it was only awarding $1, 500.00. The Association also argued that the trial court's award of costs of only $443.93 failed to include other reasonable and necessary costs. The trial court denied the motion for rehearing.

         The Association gave notice of appeal.

         Analysis

         "[T]he award of attorney's fees is a matter committed to sound judicial discretion which will not be disturbed on appeal, absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion." DiStefano Constr., Inc. v. Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md., 597 So.2d 248, 250 (Fla. 1992). It is well settled that "[a]n award of attorney's fees must be supported by substantial competent evidence and contain express findings regarding the number of hours reasonably expended and a reasonable hourly rate for the type of litigation involved." Nagl v. Navarro, 187 So.3d 359, 361 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) (quoting Diwakar v. Montecito Palm Beach Condo. Ass'n, 143 So.3d 958, 960 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014)).

         On appeal, the Association argues that the face of the final judgment reflects an error committed by the trial court, in that the findings are inconsistent with the amount of attorney's fees awarded. Specifically, the Association points out that the final judgment indicates that the trial court found that 31.7 hours of attorney's time was reasonably expended and that an hourly rate of $195.00 for the Association's attorney was reasonable. Given the predicate findings, the amount of attorney's fees awarded should have amounted to $6, 181.50 (31.7 hours x $195.00 = $6, 181.50). However, as ...


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