A Florida appellate court has sided with a former Florida House member in a back-and-forth battle over fee motions and sanctions.
The Third District Court of Appeal issued an opinion affirming Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith’s decision not to order sanctions against Miami attorney Yolly Roberson. The motions filed against her had been entered by Coral Gables lawyers Andrew Kassier and Albert Piantini.
Roberson, who served as a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives between 2002 and 2010, initially clashed with Kassier and Piantini over an underlying landlord-tenant case in which the parties litigated against one another. In June 2013 Roberson brought a complaint for breach of commercial lease agreement against Daniel Fils-Aime for defacing and repeatedly failing to make payments on the Haitian Historical Society Inc., a property he’d leased from the former legislator. Roberson represented herself in the case.
After the trial court found in favor of Roberson and entered an eviction judgment against Fils-Aime, the defendants appealed and retained Kassier and Pianti to bring the case to the Third DCA. The appellate panel upheld the lower court’s judgment in addition to affirming Roberson’s motion for fees.
“In her fee motion, Roberson also requested sanctions against defendants and their appellate counsel … for bringing a frivolous appeal,” Wednesday’s opinion said. “This court’s order granting fees did not indicate that it was granting Roberson’s request for sanctions and did not include any express findings of misconduct. Neither party sought clarification.”
Read the opinion:
According to the opinion, Roberson subsequently entered three motions that alternated between requesting fees from the defendants as well as Kassier and Pianti to just the defendants. Kassier and Pianti responded by filing two motions for sanctions against Roberson, arguing she had wrongfully sought fees from the attorneys.
Following Smith’s denial of their motions, Kassier and Pianti appealed to the Third DCA and argued that “Roberson’s filing of a motion for fees against them was not supported by material facts or existing case law,” according to the opinion.
The appellate panel said its decision to affirm Smith’s order stemmed from precedent holding “an appellate court can reverse only where the trial court’s decision is completely unreasonable.”
“While it is true that Roberson perhaps should have realized that this court’s fee order did not grant fees as sanctions because the order was completely silent as to sanctions and made no findings of misconduct, the trial court, nonetheless, did not abuse its discretion when it denied appellate counsel’s motions for sanctions because its decision was not completely unreasonable,” the opinion said.
Roberson and Piantini declined to provide a statement on the court’s order. Kaisser did not respond to requests for comment by press time.