Florida Supreme Court OKs awarding attorney's fees in dating, harassment cases

By Dee Thompson | Jan 17, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that attorney fees can be awarded in dating and harassment injunction proceedings.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that attorney fees can be awarded in dating and harassment injunction proceedings.

In the case of Nicole Lopez v. Sean Hall, the Supreme Court approved the award of attorneys fees in a ruling released Jan. 11. 

Sean Hall was a member of the Florida Elections Commission in 2014 when activist Nicole Lopez appeared before a Jacksonville judge and testified that Hall harassed her with threatening texts, mailings and false tips to police, two years after their romantic relationship had ended. Hall’s attorney Earl Johnson Jr. categorically denied the allegations. A temporary injunction was granted. Lopez filed a petition for a permanent injunction but it was later withdrawn. 

Under Florida’s “repeat, dating and sexual violence” statute, attorney fees could not be recovered, the lower court ruled. That ruling was overturned by the First District  Court of Appeals. However, the appeals court certified that the decision conflicted with other cases in the Third District and Fourth District Courts of Appeal. 

The Supreme Court said that Hall applied for attorney’s fees under § 57.105(1), Fla. Stat. (2013), stating Lopez’s allegations were entirely false, citing it under Section 784.046, which is a civil proceeding.

According to Florida law, under code Section 57.105 parties and their attorneys have a 21-day time period after receipt of service of a Section 57.105 motion to withdraw or correct a baseless claim or defense before the motion can be filed with the court. Code Section 784.046 allows a petitioner to receive an ex parte temporary injunction, effective for 15 days at most, and requires that a full hearing occur on a date “no later than the date the temporary injunction ceases to be effective,” unless good cause is shown. 

According to the timeline provided in Section 784.046, it’s impossible for a party to obtain a ruling upon a Section 57.105 motion in a situation where a temporary injunction is granted and a full hearing must occur at most 15 days later -- which is prior to the end of the 21-day-notice period.

Lopez argued she couldn’t comply with the notice requirement under 57.105, but the Supreme Court decision states “... were we to read the statutes at issue as Lopez suggests, we would be limiting the trial court’s ability to award fees on its own initiative under Section 57.105(1), contrary to the plain language of that statute.”

In its conclusion, the Florida Supreme Court notes in its majority brief authored by Justice C. Alan Lawson: “... we approve the First District’s decision in Hall and hold that Section 57.105 may be applied to repeat, dating, and sexual violence injunction proceedings under Section 784.046. We further disapprove the Third District’s decisions in Ratigan and Cisneros and the Fifth District’s decision in Dudley to the extent they can be read to preclude the application of section 57.105 under proper circumstances in section 784.046 proceedings.”

Justice Barbara Pariente dissented.

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