Florida High Court Overturns District Court’s Denial of Attorney Fees for Prevailing Firefighters and Police Officers in Pension Fund Class Action Suit

Posted on February 25th, 2015 by Legal Fee Advisors

In an October 2014 decision, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that certain Florida statutes allowing awards of attorney’s fees to the prevailing parties were, in fact, applicable to the class action suit brought by firefighters and police officers for pension plan benefits.[1]

This class action was brought by a retired beneficiary of the plan on behalf of local firefighters and police officers to enforce a certain provision of their local pension fund benefits claiming, inter alia, that the fund breached its fiduciary duty to its members (of the class) in claiming that the fund Board failed to pay required final principal benefits for the 2004 fiscal year.[2] This complaint included a request for attorney’s fees under Florida statutes.[3] The class prevailed when the Board admitted to failing to pay those final 2004 payments to its members.[4] However, the trial court’s award of over one million dollars in attorney’s fees to the class was reversed on appeal when the Second District court ruled that the statutes under which the action was originally filed (Florida Statutes sections 175.061(5) and 185.05(5)) were not applicable to proceedings brought to enforce special provisions of local law plans (such as this pension plan fund) “not part of the general statutory constructs.”[5] The Florida Supreme Court, through statutory intent analysis, disagreed stating that although this plan was enacted as a “special act of the Legislature” and is therefore a unique local law plan it nonetheless “exists within and is subject to the framework for local law plans established in those statutes and thus prevailing party attorney’s fees are payable thereunder.”[6] In addition, there was an argument by the Board of Trustees that payment of attorneys’ fees was not pleaded with the requisite specificity.[7] This contention was also rejected by the Court stating all that is required is a mere statement of claim for attorneys’ fees as that gives the opposition sufficient notice and it wasn’t necessary for the applicable sections of the statutes to be mentioned.[8]

The lesson to be learned here is that seemingly the courts will continue to interpret statutory provisions to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party by balancing the aggrieved party’s request with the an eye on justice rather than punitive goals. The Florida Supreme Court is clearly sending a message that fairness counts on both sides, but that if the claim for attorney’s fees is reasonable it will be awarded especially where the prevailing party was admittedly wronged by the opposition.

Dawn Guglielmo, Esq.

Legal Fee Advisors © 2015

[1] Parker v. Bd. of Trustees of City Pension Fund for Firefighters & Police Officers in City of Tampa, 149 So. 3d 1129 (Fla. 2014)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

For more information on how Legal Fee Advisors can help your company reduce legal costs, please contact David Paige at dpaige@legalfeeadvisors.com

Comments are closed.