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Florida Fourth DCA rules that limitation on attorney's fees in Claims Bill was an unconstitutional impairment of contract

On June 21, 2017, in Grossman Roth P.A. v. Mellon, No. 4D14-1766, the Florida Fourth DCA struck down a portion of a final judgment by a trial court setting attorney’s fees in a declaratory judgment action between a client and his former law attorneys where the issue in dispute was the amount of legal fees from a medical negligence lawsuit settlement to which the law firm was entitled. The plaintiff had entered into a settlement agreement with the medical negligence defendant, a hospital entitled to sovereign immunity, under which the hospital agreed to a $3,000,000 judgment, only $200,000 of which was payable by the hospital because of its sovereign immunity. A Claims Bill awarded the plaintiff the remaining $2.8 million, but the Claims Bill set caps on the attorney’s fees that were substantially lower than the flat 25% rate stipulated under the contract and the statute, F.S. 768.28, which provides both the $200,000 statutory cap and a 25% cap on attorney’s fees in lawsuit against sovereign entities. The trial court upheld the Claims Bill’s fee limitation. On appeal, the Florida Fourth DCA noted that the trial court’s decision was in direct conflict with the recent Florida Supreme Court decision in Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley, etc. v. State, 209 So. 3d 1181 (Fla. 2017).

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