(Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP)
A Trump company fighting a roughly $32,500 bill could end up paying more than 10 times as much in litigation costs.
Trump Endeavor 12 LLC fought—and lost—a paint supplier’s attempt to foreclose on a lien for work at Trump National Doral Miami. It now faces a $390,000 legal tab to cover the prevailing party’s attorneys’ fees and costs after a Florida appellate court upheld an award for subcontractor Fernich Inc., which does business as The Paint Spot.
“By taking this case on a contingency fee basis, our firm also took a substantial risk to vindicate the fact that The Paint Spot’s lien was always valid and enforceable,” plaintiffs lawyer Daniel R. Vega said Thursday.
Vega’s gamble paid off.
At trial, his client defeated the Trump company and filed a successful motion to apply a risk, or contingency fee, multiplier to calculate reasonable attorney rates. By that point, The Paint Spot had incurred about $150,000 in legal fees from Coral Gables-based law firm, Taylor Espino Vega & Touron.
The bad news for Trump Endeavor 12 LLC: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge E. Cueto multiplied that fee by 1.75.
On appeal, The Paint Spot seeks to repeat the feat, with a motion to tack on a similar multiplier for the district court proceedings.
“We expect that the $75,000 incurred on appeal will also be multiplied by 1.75,” Vega said.
Meanwhile, the lien itself has ballooned to about $50,000 with interest.
“This is what happens in these cases. Legal fees start to drive it,” said construction attorney Nicholas Siegfried, who was not involved in the litigation. “It appears … it got to a point where the parties were really fighting about the fees.”
“It appears both sides dug in on their position,” he said.
The litigation stems from The Paint Spot’s 2014 lien against Trump National Doral Miami, linked to companies belonging to President Donald Trump.
The plaintiff claimed it delivered $135,000 worth of paint in 2013, but was not paid for the last $32,000 as Trump Endeavor 12 LLC renovated the golf resort. The project utilized two contractors, and a Trump Endeavor representative inadvertently handed The Paint Spot incorrect contractor information for the notice to owner.
At trial, the Trump company argued the lien was invalid because The Paint Spot had served the wrong contractor.
“We had an interesting and unusual issue because the plaintiff failed to follow the lien law,” Trump Endeavor attorney Bruce Rogow said. “The problem is that lien laws are to be strictly enforced.”
But the Third District Court of Appeal disagreed, upholding Cueto’s ruling in the subcontractor’s favor, “notwithstanding the error on the face” of the notice. Rather than requiring strict adherence to the lien law, the court found The “Paint Spot substantially complied with the statutory lien provisions,” and that the defense could not prove injury because of the faulty claim.
“Substantial compliance carried the day,” Rogow said.
Meanwhile, Trump Endeavor is fighting the bid for a multiplier on appeal.
“The factors which motivated the trial court here to apply a multiplier to reward counsel for initially taking on and litigating this construction lien matter no longer apply,” according to its response for appellate fees. “Having prevailed below, the reasons for a multiplier in this appellate proceeding do not exist.”
In any event, Trump Endeavor faces a catch-22.
Rogow is one of South Florida’s most prominent appellate attorneys, so every filing to fight The Paint Spot likely adds to Trump Endeavor’s own legal fees.