TRIAL COURT PROPERLY DENIED MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES UNDER SECTION 57.105 WHERE ALTHOUGH THE PLAINTIFF’S CLAIMS WERE TENUOUS, THERE WAS AT LEAST AN ARGUABLE BASIS FOR PLAINTIFF’S CLAIMS--SIMPLY BECAUSE A LITIGANT LOSES A CASE IS NOT A BASIS FOR SANCTIONS UNDER SECTION 57.105 AND COURTS SHOULD APPLY THE STATUTE WITH RESTRAINT SO AS NOT TO RISK CHILLING ACCESS TO THE COURTS.
MINTO PBLH, LLC v. 1000 Friends of Florida, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2223 (Fla. 4th DCA October 18, 2017):
The plaintiffs below unsuccessfully brought a case, and the defendant had moved for §57.105 fees which the trial court denied.
The Fourth District affirmed. In a rather strongly worded opinion, the court said that where there is an arguable basis in law and fact for a party’s claim, a trial court maynot sanction that party under section 57.105. Instead, courts must apply section 57.105 “with restraint to ensure that it serves its intended purpose of discouraging baseless claims without casting a chilling effect on use of the courts.”
The Fourth District admonished that merely losing a case is not a basis for sanctions under section 57.105. Similarly, a court’s finding that a party’s interpretation of a legal document is incorrect “does not mean that the other party is necessarily entitled to section 57.105 fees.”
The court declined to address in detail the lengthy factual and procedural history of the case, noting that it although the plaintiff’s claims were tenuous with respect to the alleged inconsistency they were arguing between documents, there was at least an “arguable” basis for the claims.
The Fourth District even noted that its decision was not intended to suggest that the plaintiff’s claims were even persuasive. However, even though the plaintiff’s contentions were not particularly strong and were ultimately determined to be incorrect, the court affirmed the denial of §57.105 sanctions, advising that the statute needs to be applied “with restraint.” To rule otherwise, would risk chilling access to courts. As the court observed, if the defendant’s argument were taken to its logical extreme, a losing party would be subject to sanctions under section 57.105 every time a court found that a statute or a legal document was unambiguous and a losing party’s interpretation was incorrect (and taken to its logical extreme, any time any litigant loses).