Thursday, March 24, 2011

Florida Supreme Court "Clarifies" Offer of Judgment Statute.



I've said this before, but Florida case law governing the offer of judgment statute, along with its cute little tag along sister Rule 1.442, is hopelessly -- I would say irremediably -- screwed up.

That's why, for example, two DCAs could come up with diametrically opposed outcomes on a nearly identical set of very discrete facts.

How do you think that makes the schleppers feel?

Indeed, if it were within my power, I would just hit the "re-set" button, do a full System Restore and start the whole thing again from scratch.

Which brings us to today's Florida Supreme Court opinion, dealing with whether or not a party who accepts an offer of judgment is the "prevailing party" for purposes of a later fee application -- in this case under Mag/Moss.

Frankly, how the 4th DCA could blow the answer to that question is a complete mystery, but here's what they thought:
The Fourth District affirmed the trial court, holding that ―"[t]here simply was no court-ordered change in the relationship of the parties in this case by the plaintiff‘s acceptance of DaimlerChrysler‘s proposal for settlement." Id. at 1215. The Fourth District found ―that section 768.79(4)‘s provision for enforcement is not the same as the required affirmative court action that either approves of the terms of a settlement or affirmatively retains jurisdiction for enforcement.‖ Id.
This strikes me as profoundly wrong.

It's a freakin' offer of judgment statute, which carries with it certain penalties and legal consequences.  The offer was served, and subsequently accepted, in a court case in which the statute presumably governed the parties' conduct.

Anyhoo, here's what the Supremes held:
Unlike a settlement before an action is filed, any offer made and accepted pursuant to Florida‘s offer of judgment statute is, as illustrated by the very name of the statute, under the auspices of the court in which the offer is made and accepted. A resolution reached pursuant to the offer of judgment statute, as opposed to an extrajudicial settlement agreement that is not subject to judicial enforcement, bears the imprimatur of the court because a party that fails to accept that resolution is subject to judicial penalty and sanctions. See § 768.79(4), Fla. Stat. Further, a settlement produced pursuant to Florida‘s offer of judgment statute is subject to that court‘s full continuing jurisdiction thereafter. The offer of judgment statute would actually provide a basis to further penalize the consumer if this were not the end result. Consequently, a settlement produced under Florida‘s offer of judgment statute necessarily carries judicial implications.
This would seem self-evident, but like a lot of things in Florida, you often have to spell it out, then spell it out again, until some small piece of what you are trying to convey sinks in.

Chief Justice Canady, btw, dissents (not unreasonably, I might add) -- further proving my initial point that the entire area of the law needs to be wiped clean and begun anew.

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