BRIGHT HOUSE NETWORKS, LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company, Appellant,
ALBERT B. CASSIDY; STEVEN L. CASSIDY; PETER E. CASSIDY; CAROL CASSIDY RHINEHART; and MICHAEL H. CASSIDY, Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Polk County; Mark F. Carpanini,
J. Partlow and Donald A. Mihokovich of Adams and Reese, LLP,
Tampa, for Appellant.
Marc Tamayo and Barbara W. Davis of Valenti, Campbell, Trohn,
Tamayo & Aranda, P.A., Lakeland, for Appellees.
House Networks, LLC, appeals a final order denying its motion
for attorney's fees based on a proposal for settlement
that Bright House had served on one of the plaintiffs, Albert
B. Cassidy, pursuant to section 768.79, Florida Statutes
(2011), and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442
(2012). Because the trial court erred in
determining that the proposal for settlement contained an
ambiguity that could reasonably cause the offeree to be
uncertain about the proposal's conditions, we reverse and
remand for further proceedings.
2012, five members of the Cassidy family filed a one-count
complaint for breach of contract against Bright House. The
Cassidys alleged that Bright House was providing cable
services to the Cassidys free of all charges and costs
pursuant to a contract, but Bright House began issuing 1099
tax forms for the value of the services beginning in 2011.
The Cassidys alleged that these taxes are charges and costs
that they should not have to bear.
House served "Defendant's Proposal for Settlement to
Albert B. Cassidy" (the Proposal) in January 2013. He
did not accept the Proposal. The Cassidys later amended their
complaint to add a count for a declaratory judgment. After
the trial court entered summary judgment in Bright
House's favor, it filed a motion for attorney's fees
and costs. Bright House sought attorney's fees based on
its Proposal. Bright House asserts on appeal that it did not
serve a proposal on any other plaintiff in order to avoid the
issues that can arise with joint proposals for settlement.
Proposal defines the Offeror as Bright House and the Offeree
as Albert B. Cassidy. At issue are paragraphs 4 and 6 of the
Proposal which read as follows:
4. Relevant Conditions: Upon acceptance of this
proposal, Offeree shall, within ten (10) days thereof, cause
this civil action to be dismissed with prejudice as to all
claims against Offeror. . . .
6. Claims to be Resolved: This proposal is to settle
and otherwise fully and completely resolve all claims
asserted by Offeree against Offeror in this action.
trial court denied Bright House's motion for
attorney's fees because the court found that
"[t]here is an inherent ambiguity created in Paragraph 4
of the Proposal for Settlement regarding which claims were to
be dismissed." The trial court found that the Proposal
"could reasonably cause Albert Cassidy to be unsure
about the conditions of the Proposal." Recognizing that
"the case law requires strict construction" with
respect to proposals for settlement, the court found that the
Proposal did not meet the particularity requirement of rule
1.442 and was invalid.
review of a party's entitlement to attorney's fees
under section 768.79 and rule 1.442 is de novo. Anderson
v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 202 So.3d 846, 852 (Fla. 2016);
Saterbo v. Markuson, 210 So.3d 135, 138 (Fla. 2d DCA
2016). Proposals made under the offer of judgment statute
must strictly conform to the requirements of the statute and
rule because the statutory award of attorney's fees is in
derogation of the common law that usually provides for each
party to pay its own fees. Anderson, 202 So.3d at
852. Rule 1.442(c)(2)(C) requires that proposals for
settlement state relevant conditions with particularity.
See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Nichols, 932
So.2d 1067, 1078 (Fla. 2006). A lawsuit's dismissal
"is a proper and relevant condition in an offer of
judgment." Sherman v. Savastano, 220 So.3d 441,
443-44 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) (quoting 1 Nation Tech. Corp.
v. A1 Teletronics, Inc., 924 So.2d 3, 6, (Fla. 2d DCA
2005)). The condition of a dismissal must be stated with
particularity in the proposal. Id. at 444. The
version of rule 1.442(c)(2)(B) applicable here also provides
that the proposal shall "identify the claim or claims
the proposal is attempting to resolve."
Florida Supreme Court has recognized that it may be
impossible to rid proposals for ...