Attorney fees not necessarily awarded to a party who prevails in a construction lien dispute
Florida’s mechanic’s lien law generally provides for an award of attorney fees to a party that prevails in a construction lien dispute. Fla. Stat. § 713.29 But what happens if one party prevails on the lien claim, but other claims in the case have not been decided? Are attorney fees still awardable to the party who prevailed on the lien claim? The answer is … maybe or maybe not?
In GMPMF Framing LLC v. Villages at Lake Lily Associates, LLC, 2012 WL 5364649 (Fla. 5th DCA Nov. 2, 2012) the court recently addressed this issue. A contractor filed a lawsuit against a property owner seeking to: (1) foreclose its previously filed claim of lien, (2) impose an equitable lien, and (3) recover damages under a quantum meruit theory.
The property owner prevailed in its defense of the contractor’s claim to foreclose the claim of lien. Thereafter, the trial court awarded the property owner, as the prevailing party, about $45,000.00 in attorney fees to be paid by the contractor. On appeal, however, the trial court’s award of attorney fees was reversed.
Because the contractor’s pending claims for imposition of an equitable lien and to recover under quantum meruit had not been decided, the appellate court found it premature for the trial court to award attorney fees to the property owner. Applying the “significant issues” test, the appellate court observed that significant counts remained in the lawsuit and it would therefore be premature to award attorney fees until these counts were resolved. At the close of the case, a determination could then be made as to who prevailed on the “significant issues” in the case. Accordingly, the matter was remanded to the trial court to first consider and dispose of these remaining issues.
In the end, prevailing in a lien dispute is of course a desired result. However, depending on the entirety of the claims, facts, and circumstances of the particular case, it does not necessarily mean that you will be a prevailing party entitled to an award of attorney fees for doing so.