The significant issues test to determine the prevailing party in construction lien actions (which, by the way, also applies to breach of contract actions) applies to appellate attorney’s fees too! Under this test, the trial court has discretion to determine which party prevailed on the significant issues of the case for purposes of attorney’s fees. The trial court also has discretion to determine that neither party was the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees.
In a recent decision, Bauer v. Ready Windows Sales & Service Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1417a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), there were competing motions for appellate attorney’s fees. Both parties believed they should be deemed the prevailing party under Florida Statute s. 713.29 (statute that authorizes prevailing party attorney’s fees under Florida’s Construction Lien Law). The appellate court held that neither party was the prevailing party under the significant issues test: “[W]e conclude that each party lost on their appeal, while each party successfully defended that part of the judgment in their favor on the other party’s cross-appeal. Because both parties prevailed on significant issues, this Court finds that appellate fees are not warranted for either party.” Bauer, supra.
Attorney’s fees can very easily drive construction lien and bond disputes. Just remember, the significant issues test to determine the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees applies to fees incurred at the trial court and appellate court levels. This test has a subjective component that gives a court an easy out—determine that neither party prevailed on the significant issues or, as in the above case, both parties prevailed on the significant issues, meaning neither party is entitled to attorney’s fees.
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