Appellate Update – Third District Invalidates Proposal for Settlement Where the Language in the Proposal did not Mirror the Language in the Attached Release

December 8, 2016 by on News

In S. Fla. Pool & Spa Corp. v. Sharpe Inv. Land Trust, Case No. 3D15-102, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 17089, *1 (Fla. 3d DCA Nov. 16, 2016), a Landlord sued Pool & Spa for eviction alleging that it had failed to pay monthly rent.  The Landlord also sued Sanchez who had executed an unconditional guaranty of Pool & Spa’s lease obligations.  During the pendency of the case, a fire erupted at the premises.  As a result, the Landlord amended the complaint to add an eviction count based on Pool & Spa’s failure to maintain insurance as required by the lease.  The amended complaint also included claims for damages for breach of contract and negligence.  In addition, the Landlord sought entitlement to attorney’s fees for each count.

The trial court severed the eviction claims from the damages claims and entered summary judgment on the eviction claim in favor of the Landlord.  Pool & Spa appealed the summary judgment.  During the pendency of that appeal, Pool & Spa served a proposal for settlement on the Landlord pursuant to Florida Statute § 768.79 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442.  The proposal was conditioned on an attached release.  The Landlord rejected the proposal for settlement.

After the trial on the damages claims, the trial court entered a final judgment in favor of Pool & Spa.  Pool & Spa then moved for fees pursuant to their proposal for settlement.  However, the trial court denied its motion for fees finding that the proposal was “invalid because the plain language of the general release waive[d] all claims for legal fees with no carve out for the legal fees relating to the eviction claims.”  Pool and Spa appealed the trial court’s denial of its entitlement to fees under the proposal for settlement.

On appeal, the Landlord argued that the proposal was ambiguous because the proposal itself purported to resolve all claims including with the exclusion of the eviction claims, while the attached release purported to release Pool & Spa from all claims including the fee eviction claim.  The Court noted that under the condition heading of the body of the proposal, the following claims would be dismissed: “all the pending claims, with the exclusion of the Eviction Claims which are currently pending on appeal.”  Yet, under the attorney’s fee heading, the offer provided that it “include[d] attorney’s fees which are not part of the negligence claim.”  Further, the release provided that it covered “any and all claims . . . including attorney’s fees which have arisen, arise, or which may hereafter arise out of the matters which were alleged in, or could have been alleged.”

The Court explained that the inconsistency between the proposal and the release rendered the proposal ambiguous.  It was unclear from reading both the proposal and the release whether Pool & Spa intended to include the Landlord’s attorney’s fees claim associated with the eviction.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and found that the proposal was invalid.

If you have any questions about this case or would like to refer an appellate matter, please contact our appellate attorneys. 

Kansas R. Gooden
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Appellate Practice Group Leader
Direct: 904.493.3755
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Loreyn P. Raab
Direct: 904.309.6786
Fax: 904.520.7597


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