When One Party Breaches A Contract, The Other Party Is Generally “the Prevailing Party” On The Significant Issues, Absent Compelling Circumstances That Would Make It Unjust To Award Fees.
Hardeman Landscape Nursery v. Watkins, 45 Fla. L Weekly D186 (Fla. 2nd DCA January 22, 2020):
A property owner entered into a contract with a nursery for landscaping work. When the project was almost complete, the parties reached an impasse on how to finish it. The owner sued the landscape company, and the company counterclaimed. Each alleged that the other had breached the contract.
After a bench trial, the trial court found that the owner initially breached the contract, but further found that the landscape company failed to properly prove damages and would recover nothing. The court also determined that the owner had failed to prove a breach of contract and would, therefore, recover nothing.
The landscape company moved for attorney’s fees, arguing it was the prevailing party, but the court denied that motion finding there was no prevailing party, because there was no damages.
Because the landscape company prevailed on the owner’s main claim and its own counterclaim, it was at error for the trial court to refuse to award it prevailing party attorney’s fees. Absent compelling circumstances, in a breach of contract action, one party must generally prevail unless it would result in an unjust award. Under these circumstances, the court found one party did breach, and fees should have been awarded.