Florida Court: Fees/Costs Under FDUTPA Discretionary
On January 18th, 2023, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal issued a decision in the FDUTPA case of Virginia Hadad Gonzalez vs. Millin A. Nobregas. The appeals court determined that the awarding of attorneys’ fees and other legal costs under the deceptive and unfair practices is a discretionary matter for the court. Here, our Miami deceptive and unfair trade practices lawyers discuss the court’s ruling in this case.
Case Analysis: Virginia Hadad Gonzalez vs. Millin A. Nobregas
The Background & Facts
Virginia Hadad Gonzalez was the defendant in a Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices (FDUTPA) claim. At trial, she prevailed in her case against the plaintiff, Millin A. Nobregas. The FDUTPA has a fee-shifting provision. In effect, this means that the prevailing party—whether a plaintiff or a defendant—can be awarded attorneys’ fees and other reasonable legal costs.
The Legal Issue
Though it ruled in her favor in the FDUTPA claim, the trial court ruled against Ms. Hadad Gonzalez in her petition for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. She appealed the decision on the grounds that the trial court abused its discretion by denying her fees and costs even though she was the prevailing party in the deceptive and unfair trade practices lawsuit.
The FDUPTA dispute went before the Florida Third District Court of Appeal. Upon review, the appellate court ruled in favor of the appellant, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying an award of attorneys’ fees and legal costs. The Florida Third District Court of Appeal emphasized that trial courts in the state have wide discretion to award (or deny) fees and costs in FDUTPA claims. The appellate court also noted that there is a seven-part test that should be used to determine if fee-shifting is warranted. Here is an overview of the seven factors:
- The totality of the scope of litigation and the history of the FDUTPA dispute;
- The non-prevailing party’s ability to pay costs and fees;
- The impact such an award would have on future FDUTPA litigation;
- The reasonableness of each party’s position in the case;
- The frivolousness, unreasonableness, or groundlessness of a claim;
- The validity of the defenses raised in the case; and
- The significance of the FDUTPA issue in question.
Ultimately, FDUTPA fees and costs are “shifted” on a case-by-case basis. It is crucial that both plaintiffs and defendants understand that they could be liable for fees and costs if they do not prevail. However, they will not automatically be entitled to fees and costs if they win. The specific circumstances of the case always matter.
Consult With Our Miami FDUTPA Lawyers Today
At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Miami deceptive and unfair commercial practices lawyers are standing by, ready to protect your rights and help you find the best solution. Contact us now for a confidential review and evaluation of your case. We provide FDUTPA representation to plaintiffs and defendants in Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and throughout the entire region.