Generally, the prevailing party is one who obtains a favorable judgment in the lawsuit. In some instances, the prevailing party is entitled to the recovery of attorney’s fees and costs. This is contrary to the American Rule, which mandates that each party is responsible for paying its own attorney’s fees and costs. The issue concerning attorney’s fees and costs was recently addressed by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Mari Ann Glass v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (No. SC17-1387).
In Glass, the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the decision of the Fourth District in Nationstar Mortgage LLC v. Glass, 219 So. 3d 896 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), as it directly conflicted with Bank of New York v. Williams, 979 So. 2d 347 (Fla 1st DCA 2008). The issue presented to the Court was whether a voluntary dismissal provides a basis for being considered the prevailing party for the purposes of appellate attorney fees. In sum, the Florida Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Fourth DCA in Glass and approved the decision in the 1st DCA in Williams.
By arriving at its conclusion, the Court recited the pertinent facts of the underlying factual allegations. In Glass, Nationstar filed a Verified Complaint against Mari Ann Glass, pursuing an in rem action to foreclose the mortgage on Glass’s real property. After several motions to dismiss the Complaint, Glass filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint filed by Nationstar, asserting that the Amended Complaint failed to correct any of its previous defects. The trial court granted Glass’s motion to dismiss with prejudice. Then, Glass sought attorney’s fees pursuant to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.525, the mortgage, and Fla. Stat. § 57.105(7). Of note, Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.525 requires any party seeking a judgment taxing attorneys' fees to serve a motion after filing of the judgment, or the service of a notice of voluntary dismissal. Likewise, § 57.105(7) provides that if a contract contains a provision allowing attorney’s fees to the other party when he or she is required to take any action to enforce the contract, the court may allow reasonable attorney’s fees to the other party when the party prevails in any action, whether plaintiff or defendant.
Following the order granting Glass’s motion to dismiss with prejudice, Nationstar appealed to the Fourth District. It submitted its initial briefing, then, thereafter, filed a notice of voluntary dismissal. Glass renewed her motion for appellate attorney’s fees based on § 57.105(7) and Nationstar’s dismissal. The Fourth District denied Glass’s motion for fees. The Fourth District relied on the decision of the Third District, which held that because no contract existed between the bank and plaintiff of that case, she could not invoke the reciprocity provisions of § 57.105(7). The Florida Supreme Court distinguished the two cases. The Court reasoned that while the law is clear that a party is precluded from claiming attorney’s fees under a contract that has been found to have never existed, when parties enter into a contract and litigation later ensues over that contract, attorney’s fees may be recovered under a prevailing-party attorney’s fee provision contained therein even though the contract is rescinded or held to be unenforceable. Applying said reasoning to the facts of Glass, the Florida Supreme Court found that Glass and the original lender had a reverse mortgage, which was later assigned its rights to Nationstar. The Court quashed the 4th DCA’s decision and approved Williams, holding that a voluntary dismissal provides the basis for being considered the prevailing party for purpose of appellate attorney fees.