July 19, 2010

Entitlement to Attorney’s Fees in Probate Matter Resolved

The issue was whether our client was entitled to an award of attorney’s fees, under the settlement agreement between the parties and as a prevailing party, after the opposing party failed to honor certain provisions in their settlement agreement.

After years of litigating a probate matter, our client and the opposing party entered into a settlement agreement. A provision in the settlement agreement stated that the opposing party would provide, within 45 days, possession and access to medical records that were necessary for the treatment and diagnosis of our client’s medical conditions, or pay for the reasonable cost incurred from compelling performance. When the opposing party failed to provide possession and access to the records, our client filed a motion to compel compliance and requested an award of reasonable attorney’s fees. The trial court granted our client’s motion, but held that the breach of the settlement was not material and denied our client’s request for attorney’s fees. The opposing party appealed the trial court’s order arguing for an award of attorney’s fees because our client failed to prove that the breach was material. Our client cross-appealed arguing for attorney’s fees as the true prevailing party.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal performed a de novo review of the matter and held that the trial court did not err in denying the opposing party’s request for attorney’s fees, but the trial court did err in failing to award our client the reasonable attorney’s fees requested and also erred in determining that the opposing party’s breach, as a whole, was not material. Thus, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of attorney’s fees to the opposing party, but reversed and remanded the denial of attorney’s fees to our client with directions to award our client reasonable attorney’s fees under the settlement agreement and as a prevailing party.

Editor’s Note: At the time of writing this blog entry, a mandate from the court had not been issued.