Hall v. Lopez, 1D15-0531 (Fla. 1st DCA July 28, 2016)
Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently went against precedents of the Third and Fifth Districts, which have disallowed attorneys’ fees based on section 57.105, Florida Statutes, in domestic violence injunction cases. Section 57.105 is well known by number to most attorneys who practice civil litigation in Florida. It provides that a court may impose attorneys’ fees as a sanction against a party and/or attorney in a civil case who offer a claim or defense that they knew, or should have known, was not supported by the material facts or the applicable law. The party seeking fees must serve its motion on the opposing party, but not file it with the court unless the opposition fails to withdraw its frivolous motion or claim within 21 days.
But does section 57.105 apply to domestic violence injunction cases? The Third and Fifth Districts have said no. In Cisneros v. Cisneros, 831 So. 2d 257 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002), the Third District cited two cases that did not involve section 57.105 in holding that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to award fees under 57.105 in a domestic violence injunction case. In Ratigan v. Stone, 947 So. 2d 607 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007), the Third District upheld 57.105 fees in a dissolution case but disallowed fees in the domestic violence injunction proceeding, again citing cases in which 57.105 is never mentioned. The Fifth District, in Dudley v. Schmidt, 963 So. 2d 297 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007), disallowed such fees on the basis that section 741.30, Florida Statutes, which applies to proceedings for domestic violence injunctions, does not authorize attorneys’ fees.
In the newly minted Hall v. Lopez opinion, however, the First District took the novel approach of actually reading the text of 57.105 and noted that it applies to a “civil proceeding or action.” Consequently, 57.105 would apply to domestic violence injunctions. Furthermore, 57.105 specifies that its provisions are “supplemental” to other sanctions and remedies, implying that it doesn’t matter whether the applicable substantive statute authorizes attorneys’ fees. The purpose of 57.105 is to deter frivolous claims or defenses in civil actions by penalizing those who pursue them. Therefore, why should it matter whether a party may be entitled to additional fees under the statute governing the action?
There is nothing in 57.105 that says that domestic violence injunction proceedings are not covered by the statute or that the award of fees under 57.105 is contingent on the existence of some other statutory basis for fees. Therefore, in Hall v. Lopez, the First District reversed the denial of 57.105 sanctions in a domestic violence injunction case and certified conflict with the above-cited cases from the Third and Fifth Districts.
My take: Look to the Florida Supreme Court to side with the First District on this one. Tip to appellate courts: read the statute before you do anything else.
–Tom Regnier, August 8, 2016