TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES BASED ON PROPOSAL FOR SETTLEMENT WHERE IT DID NOT CONTAIN A LEVEL OF AMBIGUITY THAT WOULD RENDER THE PLAINTIFF “UNABLE TO MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION WITHOUT CLARIFICATION.”
Bright House Networks v. Cassidy, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D654 (Fla. 2nd DCA March 23, 2018):
Five members of the plaintiff’s family filed a one-count complaint for breach of contract against the defendant. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendant was providing cable services to the defendants free of charge, and then all of a sudden began issuing 1099 tax forms for the value of the service. Plaintiffs allege those taxes and charges were costs that they should not have had to bear.
The defendant served a proposal for settlement to the plaintiff. He did not accept it. The plaintiff later amended his complaint to add a count for declaratory judgment. After the trial court entered summary judgment in the defendant’s favor, it filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs. The proposal defined the offeror as the defendant, and the offeree as one of the plaintiffs (there were multiple).
In the paragraph on relevant conditions, the proposal stated that upon acceptance the “offeree” within ten days would cause the civil action to be dismissed with prejudice as to all claims and then in paragraph 6, said the proposal was intended to settle and otherwise fully resolve all claims asserted.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees finding that there was inherent ambiguity created in light of the strict construction requirement.
The appellate court reversed. It said that a proposal that seeks to resolve all claims identified in the complaint or in a certain count could be sufficient under the rule.
In this case, the court said that the proposal was titled to a single plaintiff and stated that the offeree caused the civil action to be dismissed with prejudice as to all claims and that paragraph 6 defined all claims. The plaintiff had no authority to cause the other plaintiff’s claims to be dismissed, and it was clear that the proposal was made only to him and that the proposal sought to resolve only those claims asserted in the action by the offeree plaintiff, against the offeror defendant.
The only reasonable interpretation of the proposal the appellate court said, was that it was not a joint offer to all plaintiffs and did not require the dismissal of claims by all the plaintiffs. Instead, the proposal was directed only to one plaintiff, and when read as a whole there was no ambiguity that would have affected his decision.
The court reversed and remanded the order denying the defendant’s attorney’s fees, to grant them instead.