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Wilcox v. Neville

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

October 30, 2019

Rosella Wilcox, Appellant,
v.
Michael Neville, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Alachua County. Stanley H. Griffis, III, Judge.

          Rebecca B. Creed and Daniel Mahfood, Creed & Gowdy, P.A., Jacksonville, for Appellant.

          Matthew C. Scarborough, Scarborough Attorneys at Law, Tampa, for Appellee.

          LEWIS, J.

         Appellant, Rosella Wilcox, appeals the trial court's order denying her motion for attorney's fees and costs filed pursuant to section 768.79, Florida Statutes (2015), and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442, both of which address offers of judgment. Appellant argues that the trial court erred by interpreting the term "postoffer settlement" in section 768.79(6) to mean settlement after the time for accepting the offer expires. For the reasons that follow, we agree and reverse.

         Background

         Appellant filed a complaint against Jason Neville and Appellee, Michael Neville, for damages based on a 2015 motor vehicle collision, alleging that she was struck and injured by a vehicle that was owned by Jason and was negligently operated by Appellee. On May 2, 2017, Appellant filed a separate notice of serving a proposal for settlement ("PFS") as to each defendant pursuant to section 768.79 and rule 1.442. On May 17, 2017, Jason filed a notice of acceptance of Appellant's proposal to resolve her claim against him for $60, 400. Appellant, in turn, dismissed her claim against Jason. Appellee allowed the proposal for settlement to expire and the parties proceeded to trial. The jury returned a verdict for Appellant in the amount of $126, 592.33.

         Appellant moved for an award of attorney's fees and costs pursuant to section 768.79 and rule 1.442. The parties agreed that Appellee was entitled to set-offs for Personal Injury Protection ("PIP") benefits and the settlement with Jason, and they agreed on the amount of the final judgment to be entered for Appellant. They disagreed, however, about Appellant's entitlement to attorney's fees based on their divergent interpretation of the phrase "postoffer settlement" in section 768.79(6). Specifically, the disputed issue was whether Jason's acceptance of Appellant's proposal for settlement constituted a "postoffer settlement" that should be added to the net judgment under section 768.79(6).

         The trial court explained in its order on the motion that the net judgment was $58, 865.73, which resulted from deducting the $60, 400 settlement with Jason and the $7, 326.60 PIP benefits from the $126, 592.33 verdict. If Jason's settlement was added back to the net judgment as a "postoffer settlement," the judgment obtained would be $119, 265.73, which "figure would exceed $112, 000.00, which is 25% more than the $89, 600.00 PFS offered to [Appellee], thereby entitling [Appellant] to statutory fees and costs." The court found, however, that Jason's settlement during Appellee's thirty-day acceptance period was not a postoffer settlement and reasoned:

The entire statute must be read together. The Florida Legislature intended every PFS to remain open and valid for an opposing party's consideration a full 30 days. Plaintiff's position would eliminate the 30 day consideration period required by section 768.79(1), Fla. Stat. Taken literally, Plaintiff's proposed rule would bar a similarly situated Defendant from the statutory opportunity to evaluate a co-defendant's decision to accept or reject another PFS during the same 30 day statutory period.

         Accordingly, the trial court denied Appellant's motion for attorney's fees and costs and entered a final judgment against Appellee in the amount of $58, 865.73. This appeal followed.

         Analysis

         Our review of a trial court's ruling on a motion for attorney's fees and costs filed pursuant to section 768.79 is de novo. Tierra Holdings, Ltd. v. Mercantile Bank, 78 So.3d 558, 561 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011). We likewise review a trial court's interpretation of a statute de novo. Id. The polestar of statutory interpretation is legislative intent, which is to be determined by first looking at the actual language used in the statute. Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley v. State, 209 So.3d 1181, 1189 (Fla. 2017). If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we may not resort to the rules of statutory construction and must give the statute its plain and obvious meaning. Id. We must give effect to all parts of the statute and avoid readings that would render a part thereof meaningless. Id. We may not construe a statute in a way that would extend, ...


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