This case involved a dispute between a homeowners association (“Association”) and a homeowner / member of Association (“Owner”) over an alleged failure on the part of Association to properly maintain a common area surface water management system that was located behind Owner’s residence. Owner contended that Association breached its obligations under Association’s Governing Documents by its failure to maintain the drainage system and as a result, she had ongoing flooding problems on her property. In her action, Owner sought damages and an injunction requiring Association to cure the alleged surface water management violations and stop the flooding problem.
First – The Trial Court Ruling
The trial court jury found that Association breached the governing documents by its failure to maintain the drainage system, but that the breach was not the legal cause of Owner’s damage and awarded Owner no money damages. In a separate ruling, the trial court judge issued a mandatory injunction against Association after finding that Association breached its maintenance responsibilities, and as a result, Owner suffered irreparable harm without an adequate remedy at law.
Neither Party is Satisfied with the Ruling
Following the trial court’s judgment granting the injunction in favor of Owner, Owner sought an award of attorney fees as the prevailing party. The trial court found that Owner was not the “prevailing party” because she did not receive an award of monetary damages. After the trial court denied Owner’s request for attorney fees and costs, Owner appealed the denial and Association also appealed the issuance of the injunction by the trial court.
Who will the Appellate Court Rule is the Prevailing Party?
The appellate court found no error in the trial court’s issuance of an injunction against Association and then considered the issue of whether Owner was entitled to recover attorney fees and costs as the “prevailing party.” The appellate court stated that when there is a prevailing party statute or contract provision, reasonable attorney fees must be awarded and, for the purpose of awarding attorney fees, the prevailing party is the party that won on the significant issues. Thus, the appellate court found that despite the fact that no damages were awarded to Owner, the fact that Association was found to have breached the governing documents made Owner the prevailing party on the significant issues in the litigation.
As such, under the applicable statutes and Association’s governing documents, an award of attorney fees and costs was mandatory and the trial court had no discretion to deny them to Owner. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment denying Owner an award of attorney fees and costs and remanded the case back to the trial court for a determination of the proper amount of attorney fees and costs to award to Owner.
Florida Appellate Court decision (May 9, 2018).
See case decision: Coconut_Key_Homeowner’s_Ass’n_Inc._v._Gonzalez_(Fla._App._2018)1