The Third District Court of Appeal rejected a bank’s attempt to avoid paying attorney fees in a foreclosure case that was dismissed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
In the ruling against HSBC Bank U.S.A. N.A., the court blasted the bank Wednesday for a “history in this case of disobeying court orders.” HSBC challenged a Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruling that awarded homeowner Gayle Williams more than $74,000 in attorney fees and costs.
Mandel Law Group managing partner Roberta Mandel, who represented Williams, said the fee award included a multiplier of 2½ from the original fees. Multipliers are commonly added to awards in personal injury and other cases, but Mandel said she believes this is the first to be added to a foreclosure case.
“This is a monumental decision,” the Miami attorney said. “Out of 850 appeals I’ve handled in my 29-year career, this is the sweetest victory.”
HSBC’s foreclosure case against Williams was dismissed after the bank failed “to comply with various discovery orders,” Judge Thomas Logue wrote in the opinion. The bank did not appeal the dismissal, just the fees.
The bank unsuccessfully argued Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David C. Miller abused his discretion by sanctioning HSBC for “failing to comply with the court’s scheduling order regarding attorney’s fees,” Logue wrote. The appellate panel received time sheets and testimony from Williams’ attorney along with testimony from two outside attorneys who offered expert opinions to support the fees.
“This is a wake-up call for lending institutions that they have to be held accountable,” Mandel said. HSBC “ignored court hearings and ignored discovery requests. The court’s message is they will apply a multiplier if a bank’s activities are so dishonest.”
Orlando attorney Richard Swank, who is of counsel at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, represented HSBC. He did not return calls seeking comment by deadline.
In a separate opinion, the appellate court reversed a Monroe circuit judge’s decision to throw out a default judgment and foreclosure sale.
The appellate court found Monroe Circuit Judge Sandra Taylor made a clear error in granting a condominium association’s motions for relief from a default judgment and vacating a foreclosure sale to Mark Peterson.
Attorneys for the Lake Surprise II Condominium Association successfully argued in the trial court that the judgment and foreclosure sale should be voided due to excusable neglect, Senior Judge Alan R. Schwartz wrote in Wednesday’s opinion.
Peterson appealed the trial court’s ruling and represented himself on appeal. He did not return calls by deadline.
The association’s “conscious decision” to ignore the advice of its attorneys by not answering the foreclosure complaint is not considered excusable neglect, Schwartz wrote.
The judge sent both orders back to the trial court with instructions to confirm the default judgment, foreclosure sale and certificate of title issued to Peterson.
Key Largo attorney Samuel Persaud and Tampa attorneys Daniel Consuegra and Christopher Hixson represented the association. Messages left for them were not returned by deadline.