The 4th DCA Reversed an Award of Guardianship Fees where Non-Professionals Performed the Majority of the Services and there was no Evidence to Support the Hourly Rate

Posted on August 19, 2016

Monarchcare, Inc. v. Guardianship of Sanford H. Block, et al., 2016 WL 4132749 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) involved a dispute as to fees charged by one of the co-guardians of Sanford H. Block, who had been adjudicated partially incapacitated. One of the co-guardians (Sharon Fein, hereafter referred to as “Fein”) was a family member while the other was a Professional Guardian, Monarchcare Inc. (hereafter referred to as “Monarchcare”).  Monarchcare’s rates were almost double that of Fein.  The prior Judge who presided over the Guardianship Estate awarded rates of $95 per hour to Monarchcare and awarded Fein an hourly rate of $45 to $50 per hour at a non-evidentiary hearing; it further prospectively capped both Fein’s and Monarchcare’s rates at $45 per hour, while expressing misgivings as to his authority to prospectively reduce the rate.  Additional fees were sought by Monarchcare at the rate of $95 per hour.  The current Judge who the Guardianship Estate was assigned to held, following an evidentiary hearing, that she would uphold the prior Judge’s ruling and awarded guardianship fees to Monarchcare at $45 per hour.  Monarchcare appealed.

The Fourth DCA noted “ ‘[W]hen it is clear that the probate court has considered the statutory factors and has based its ruling on competent, substantial evidence in the record,’ the amount of guardian’s fees awarded will not be disturbed unless ‘the probate court’s ruling is arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable and thus an abuse of discretion.’ ” The Fourth DCA reversed holding that the hourly rate ultimately adopted by the trial court was not supported by the evidence.  The trial court had found that no evidence had been presented on some of the criteria set forth in Section 744.108, Florida Statutes and based on that she would uphold the prior judge’s ruling.   After listing the criteria set forth in Section 744.108(2), the, the Fourth DCA stated that the evidence showed that almost all of the hours presented were performed by non-professionals, and most of the time was for “perfunctory, secretarial type services.”  It also observed that that there was no evidence to support the rate of $45 per hour, while noting that Fein charged $50 per hour.  It further observed, as the Ward’s attorney had argued, that there was no reason that Fein should not have performed the services provided by non-professionals.  In support of its rate of $95 per hour, Monarchcare had argued that the services rendered by non-professionals was at the direction of a professional guardian.  The Fourth DCA held that most of the fees should have been charged at a reduced rate.  “This is no different than an attorney’s fees award, where time spent by associates, paralegal and other support personnel cannot be billed at the same rate as a lead lawyer.”

This case demonstrates the necessity for professional guardians to charge an hourly rate based upon the individuals within their employ who actually render the services.  It is no longer sufficient for a guardian to argue that a higher rate is justified for all services because they supervised their employees’ and/or agents’ actions. 

If you or anyone you know is in need of representation in actions involving Guardianship, Probate and/or Trust Disputes, or questions pertaining to such proceedings, please contact The Law Offices of Glenn M. Mednick, P.L., at (954) 315-1154 or gmednick@mednicklawgroup.com.

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