STATE OF FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL REGULATION DIVISION OF FLORIDA LAND SALES, CONDOMINIUMS, AND MOBILE HOMES

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1 STATE OF FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL REGULATION DIVISION OF FLORIDA LAND SALES, CONDOMINIUMS, AND MOBILE HOMES IN RE: PETITION FOR ARBITRATION Continuum on South Beach, The South Tower Condominium Association, Inc., Petitioner, v. Fee Case No Rel. Case No Alan D. Schiffman, Respondent. / FINAL ORDER ON MOTION FOR AWARD OF ATTORNEY S FEES AND COSTS Continuum on South Beach, The South Tower Condominium Association, Inc. (the association) seeks an award of the attorney s fees and costs that were incurred in the underlying arbitration case number , pursuant to its motion filed with the Division on December 22, The association contends it was the prevailing party in the underlying case and requests attorney s fees and costs, totaling $6, On December 27, 2004, the undersigned issued an order permitting the respondent twenty (20) days to respond to the association s motion for fees. The respondent failed to submit any response to the association s motion, and this order is entered accordingly. Section (4) (k), Florida Statutes, provides that the prevailing party in an arbitration proceeding shall be awarded the costs of the arbitration and reasonable attorney s fees in an amount determined by the arbitrator. A party is a prevailing party if it succeeds on a significant issue in the arbitration and achieves some of the benefit sought in bringing the action. See Moritz v. Hoyt Enterprises, Inc., 604 So. 2d 807, 809 1

2 (Fla. 1992) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). In the underlying case, a summary final order granting the relief sought by the association in its petition for arbitration was entered. Therefore, the association, having achieved the benefit sought in bringing the underlying action, is the prevailing party and is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney s fees and costs. The next issue to be decided is the reasonableness of attorney s fees and costs claimed by the association. In Florida Patient s Compensation Fund v. Rowe, 472 So.2d 1145 (Fla. 1985), the Supreme Court adopted the federal lodestar approach as the foundation for setting reasonable fee awards. This approach requires the trial court to determine a lodestar figure by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate for the services of the prevailing party s attorney. Fashion Tile & Marble v. Alpha One Construction, 532 So. 2d 1306 (Fla. 2d 1988). In undertaking this analysis, the reasonableness of the hourly rate and the number of hours reasonably expended must be separately considered. See Rowe, 472 So.2d at The association was represented by Helio De La Torre, Laura M. Manning, Raul Morales and Luis Carreja, all of whom are employed with the law firm of Seigfried, Rivera, Lerner, De La Torre & Sobel, P.A. These attorneys charged the association hourly rates of $275.00, $ and $ for legal services rendered in arbitration case Mr. De La Torre, who charged the association $ per hour for his services, has 24 years of experience in the practice of law and a substantial amount of his practice is dedicated to the practice of condominium law. Prior arbitration cases have 2

3 held that $ per hour is a reasonable hourly fee for attorneys with more than 20 years of experience. See Westgate Blue Tree Orlando, Ltd. v. Blue Tree Resort at Lake Buena Vista Condominium Association, Inc., Arb. Case No , Final Order on Motion for Costs and Attorney s Fees, (February 2, 2005) (hourly rate of $ awarded to attorney with more than 20 years of experience). Moreover, the affidavit submitted in support of the association s motion for attorney s fees indicates that rates ranging from $ per hour to $ per hour are customarily charged by attorneys practicing in Mr. De La Torre s community. Given Mr. De La Torre s considerable experience in the area of association law, the arbitrator finds that $ is reasonable hourly rate for Mr. De La Torre s services, and the association will be compensated accordingly. The affidavit attached to the motion also supports a finding that the hourly rate charged by Ms. Manning, who also has substantial experience in the area of condominium law, is reasonable. As Ms. Manning s hourly rate of $ does not exceed those amounts customarily awarded for representation in similar arbitration proceedings by attorneys with similar experience, the association will be compensated for her services at a rate of $ per hour. Similarly, the hourly rate of $ charged for the services of Mr. Carreja, who has practiced law since 1999, does not exceed those amounts customarily awarded for representation in similar arbitration proceedings by attorneys with similar experience. However, the hourly rate of $ charged for the services of Mr. Morales does. Mr. Morales has less than three years of experience in the practice of law, thus an award of $ per hour is not justified. See Doral House Condominium Association, Inc. v. 3

4 Astudillo, Arb. Case No , Final Order on Motion for Attorney s Fees and Costs (October 5, 2004)(hourly rate of $ awarded for legal services of attorney having only three years of experience). Accordingly, the association will be awarded $ per hour for the work performed by Mr. Morales. The association seeks recovery of hours of its attorney s time at the above referenced rates, for a total $6, The written time entries submitted by the association s attorneys reflect that the time incurred by each of them was reasonable and necessary to successfully litigate the underlying arbitration case, with the exception of the time associated with monitoring separate circuit court proceedings involving the respondent. The following are the time entries that have been disallowed: a.) b.) c.) d.) March 19, 2004 through March 29, 2004, totaling 3.40 hours; April 2, 2004 through April 6, 2004, totaling 3.65 hours; May 6, 2004, totaling.20 hours; July 27, 2004 through August 3, 2004, totaling 12 hours. Additionally, the 1.00 hour entry on March 16, 2004, has been disallowed as it was not incurred during the actual arbitration proceeding. In total, the association is awarded 1.25 hours of Mr. De La Torre s time at $ per hour, 1.75 hours of Ms. Manning s time at $ per hour and 7.25 hours of Mr. Carreja s and Mr. Morales time at $ per hour, for a total award of $1, The association also seeks recovery of $ in costs, which consisted of a $50.00 filing fee and a $60.00 service of process fee. The filing fee is a recoverable cost and will be awarded. However, as the association was not required by order of the 4

5 arbitrator to serve the respondent in the underlying arbitration case, the service of process fee will not be awarded. Based upon the foregoing, it is ORDERED: 1. The association s motion to tax attorney's fees and costs is GRANTED, in part. 2. The respondent shall pay the sum of $ 1, to the association within thirty (30) days of the date of this order. DONE AND ORDERED this 13 th day of June, 2005, at Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. Catherine Bembry, Arbitrator Department of Business and Professional Regulation Arbitration Section 1940 North Monroe Street Tallahassee, Florida CERTIFICATE OF MAILING I hereby certify that a true and correct copy of the foregoing was mailed by U.S. mail, postage prepaid, this 13 th day of June, 2005, to: Helio De La Torre, Esquire Siegfried, Rivera, Lerner, De La Torre & Sobel, P.A. 201 Alhambra Circle, Ste Coral Gables, Florida Alan D. Schiffman 9763 NW 29 Street, #1706 Miami Beach, Florida Catherine Bembry, Arbitrator 5

6 RIGHT TO TRIAL DE NOVO Pursuant to section , Florida Statutes, this decision shall be binding on the parties unless a complaint for trial de novo is filed by an adversely affected party in a court of competent jurisdiction in the circuit in which the condominium is located within 30 days of the date of mailing of this order. This final order does not constitute final agency action and is not appealable to the district courts of appeal. 6

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