In the subject case, MYD Marine Distrib. v. Int’l Paint, Ltd., 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 5614 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), a business lawsuit appeal, in which there were allegations of conspiracy, breach of contract, and price fixing, monetary damages as well as nonmonetary damages were sought. The Court noted that section 768.79(1) explicitly applies only to civil actions for damages. Accordingly, an offer of judgment which purports to resolve all claims is invalid if the case includes both monetary and nonmonetary causes of action. Diamond Aircraft Indus., Inc. v. Horowitch, 107 So. 3d 362, 374–75 (Fla. 2013). What was less clear, however, was whether an offer purporting to resolve only monetary claims in a suit also containing a nonmonetary cause of action is valid. Florida courts have not decided whether a party may utilize section 768.79 when he or she has asserted separate claims for monetary and nonmonetary relief in the same pleading and the opposing party has served an offer directed specifically to the monetary claim. The Court did not expand on this issue since it was warranted to affirm this issue in the subject case based on the trial court’s finding that the true relief sought by MYD below was monetary in nature.
The Court went on to note that in Diamond Aircraft, the Florida Supreme Court cited to authority suggesting that section 768.79 may be utilized in a suit seeking monetary and nonmonetary relief if the “true relief” sought is monetary. Citing to Diamond Aircraft, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently rejected a party’s argument that attorney’s fees under section 768.79 are not available in any case in which a declaratory judgment accompanies a claim for damages. Yacht Club on the Intracoastal Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 599 Fed. Appx. 875, 883 (11th Cir. 2015) (applying Florida law). Considering the facts behind a suit for breach of contract and declaratory relief, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the only dispute in the suit was one for damages and thus, held that the district court did not err in awarding attorney’s fees under section 768.79, despite the presence of a claim for nonmonetary relief.
Thus, in the subject case, the Court upheld the trial court’s application of the “true relief” analysis when considering the enforceability of International Paint’s offers. Specifically, the trial court found that MYD did not actually pursue any nonmonetary relief during the course of the litigation and instead only sought money damages. The Court held that the lower court in the correctly concluded that International Paint’s offers of judgment were enforceable. Diamond Aircraft, 107 So. 3d at 373-76; Yacht Club, 599 Fed. Appx. at 883.
Although this case was not a probate case, it is now apparent, at least in the Fourth DCA jurisdiction, that one may use section 768.79 to recover attorney’s fees in a suit seeking monetary and nonmonetary relief, if the “true relief” sought is monetary. However, due to the “true relief” limitation on its applicability, when involved in a lawsuit where both monetary and nonmonetary claims, one should be hesitant to seek all fees under section 768.79, if unsure what the “true relief” sought is or will be held to be.
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