Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.525 requires that any party seeking to tax attorney’s fees and costs “shall serve a motion no later than 30 days after filing of the judgment, including a judgment of dismissal, or the service of a notice of voluntary dismissal.”
Not surprisingly, the application of this fairly straightforward rule has resulted in a great deal of litigation. On January 29, 2009, in Amerus Life Insurance Company v. Michael Lait, 34 Fla. L. Weekly S49a (Florida Supreme Court), the Florida Supreme Court further clarified when a motion for attorney’s fees and costs must be filed.
The final judgment in Lait contained a recitation that Lait was “liable to the plaintiff” for prejudgment interest, court costs and attorneys’ fees, “which are reserved at this time.” Then, some eight months later, the plaintiff filed a motion to determine the amount of attorney’s fees and costs. Lait opposed the award of fees and costs, citing the 30-day requirement set forth in Rule 1.525. The trial court refused to award attorney’s fees and costs under Rule 1,525. The 5th DCA affirmed the denial of fees and costs. The 5th DCA relied primarily on the Florida Supreme Court’s holding in Saia Motor Freight Line, Inc. v. Reid, 930 So. 2d 598 (Fla. 2006).
The issue was then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case under direct conflict jurisdiction. The Supreme Court distinguished Saia, and reversed. In so doing, the Supreme Court stated that the 30-day time requirement under rule 1.525 does not apply when the trial court has already determined entitlement to attorneys’ fees and costs, and only reserves jurisdiction to determine the amount.
In the report of the Florida Bar Civil Procedure Rules Committee, the committee unanimously agreed that the purpose behind adopting rule 1.525 was “predictability and clarification.” Thus, the thirty-day time requirement under rule 1.525 avoids prejudice and unfair surprise to the losing party. Once the trial court determines that the prevailing party is entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs, the losing party is aware that it is required to pay the fees and costs. At that point, the concerns of prejudice and unfair surprise to the losing party are eliminated, thus eliminating the need to apply the thirty-day time requirement under rule 1.525. As the Fifth District indicated in dicta in Hart v. City of Groveland, 919 So. 2d 665, 669 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006), “[i]f a party already has a judgment granting attorney’s fees and costs, it would appear superfluous to require such a party to file a motion seeking to tax them again. The court has, in essence, already ruled to tax them and all that remains is a determination of the reasonable amount.”