Strict Scrutiny on Award of Attorneys’ Fees

In litigation matters involving multiple claims, parties and courts have often struggled with the issues of who is the real prevailing party? who is entitled to an award of attorneys fees? and for how much? Generally speaking, in Florida, each party to a civil litigation matter is responsible for paying their own attorneys’ fees and costs, unless the basis of the claim involves a contractual provision or specific Florida Statute that expressly allows the prevailing party to recover attorneys’ fees as part of the award.
The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Daytona Beach, Florida, was recently challenged with the issue of determining the sufficiency and fairness of a trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees and costs to successful plaintiffs in an action for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In Dr. Gail Van Diepen, P.A. v. Pamela Brown and Karen Romagosa, the plaintiffs sued their former employer for unpaid overtime wages, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, fraud, fraud in the inducement, retaliatory discharge, and negligent misrepresentation. Romagosa and Brown were successful only in their claim for unpaid overtime wages. However, the action for unpaid overtime wages, by Statute, allowed for the prevailing party to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs.
The Fifth DCA initially remanded to the trial court with instructions to award plaintiffs’ only those attorneys’ fees that could be proven to be directly attributable to the claim for unpaid wages and to exclude any fees incurred for time spent prosecuting the unsuccessful claims.
Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the time spent on litigating the unpaid overtime claims was so intertwined with the unsuccessful claims that they could not be accurately separated, and that they should therefore be entitled to an award of all attorneys’ fees incurred in prosecuting the entire case. Following this argument, the trial court once again returned an unsegregated award of attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs.
The Fifth DCA determined that the burden was on the Plaintiffs and their counsel to keep accurate and detailed billing records which clearly and unambiguously delineate which claims the time entries relate to. Plaintiff’s failure to do so resulted in the complete denial of an award of any attorneys’ fees.

Dr. Gail Van Diepen, P.A. v. Pamela Brown and Karen Romagosa

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