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Florida Supreme Court Relaxes Strict Construction for Proposals for Settlement

October 20, 2016

Kuhajda v. Borden Dairy Co. of Ala., LLC, No. SC15—1682 (Fla. Oct. 20, 2016)

In an opinion by Justice Canady, the Florida Supreme Court held today “that an offer of settlement is not invalid for failing to state whether the proposal includes attorney’s fees and whether attorney’s fees are part of the legal claim under rule 1.442(c)(2)(F) if attorney’s fees are not sought in the pleadings.” The court’s analysis represents a softer stance than the strict construction it and most Florida courts have previously applied to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442 and Section 768.79, Florida Statutes.

In the place of strict construction, the supreme court’s new decision applies a more common-sense approach to analyzing proposals for settlement and offers of judgment:

We decline to invalidate [plaintiff’s] offers of judgment solely for violating a requirement in rule 1.442 that section 768.79 does not require. The procedural rule should no more be allowed to trump the statute here than the tail should be allowed to wag the dog. A procedural rule should not be strictly construed to defeat a statute it is designed to implement.

Kuhajda at 8.

          The decision approves the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s 2003 decision in Bennett v. Am. Learning Systems of Boca Delray, Inc., 857 So. 2d 986 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003), whose continuing validity the supreme court had previously called into question in its opinion in Diamond Aircraft Industries, Inc. v. Horowitch, 107 So. 3d 362 (Fla. 2013).

          All other justices concurred in the Kuhajda opinion save Justice Polston, who concurred in result only. The opinion is not yet final, pending potential proceedings on rehearing.