When you decide to pursue litigation as the means to resolve a commercial contract dispute, there are many things that can detour or, worse, derail your case. Some of these have nothing to do with the strengths or weaknesses of the factual part of your case. In two cases in which plaintiffs had suffered dismissals due to missteps, both entities were likely to face some form of penalty, although one likely much more severe than the other. A plaintiff from South Florida saw its case dismissed due to its erroneous actions, while a Tampa Bay plaintiff got its dismissal reversed because the statute called for a stay of the plaintiff’s case, rather than a dismissal.
In any commercial contract setting, things can go awry. When they do, and litigation becomes necessary, your case may present you with the opportunity to not only secure a judgment in your favor but also recoup some of your attorneys’ fees as well. In a recent case involving five South Florida malls, the appellate court upheld an award of attorneys’ fees in a commercial leasing breach of contract claim. The award was in the appropriate amount because each of the landlords’ claims shared a “common core” of facts and “related legal theories.”
Sometimes, the business relationship between commercial contract partners breaks down due to one side’s dissatisfaction with the other’s work. When this happens, the party that contracted for services may elect not to pay the service provider. If it is sued for non-payment, that party may seek to defend its case by asserting an affirmative defense that the service provider did not substantially perform under the agreement because its services were so far below the quality standards that the contract expressly demanded. In one Tampa Bay-area case involving such a scenario, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a summary judgment for the unpaid service provider because, the court said, the provider’s argument did not conclusively refute all of the potential factual disputes related to the sufficiency of the work performed.
In a commercial leasing setting, there are many things a landlord can do to strengthen its position against the possibility that the tenant abandons its lease. Before litigation, the landlord can draft its lease to allocate certain risks explicitly to the tenant. During litigation, a landlord that has sued its tenant can make sure that it files all of the available pleadings, including optional ones like a reply to an answer, to counter affirmative defenses by the tenant. In the case of one Central Florida landlord, it didn’t file a reply, it didn’t have explicit risk-allocation terms in its lease, and these helped the tenant win its appeal before the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
There are lots of elements to obtaining full compensation in a commercial breach of contract case. Once you have established that you suffered damages and that the other side is liable, there is still more to your case. Part of the recovery in your case may be pre-judgment interest. A recent case from the Second District Court of Appeal serves as an important reminder regarding the awarding of pre-judgment interest, since the decision reiterated that, when an injured party proves that it “sustained out-of-pocket loss, prejudgment interest must be awarded” and accrues starting with the date of the loss.
When you have any sort of business relationship, including real estate development, that does not deliver the end product you believe it should, litigation is one possible outcome. If your circumstances dictate that filing suit is the answer, there are several steps you should take care to follow. You should make certain you are suing the right parties and asserting the right claims against them. In a recent real-estate-development-gone-wrong case in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, a project manager at a consulting firm escaped a client’s professional negligence claim because he was not a licensed professional, in Florida or anywhere else.
In many commercial contracts, the parties will agree to arbitrate their disputes in certain circumstances. In one recent case, the courts were required to resolve a dispute in which a subcontractor sought summary judgment in its breach of contract claim, while the contractor demanded that the case first go to arbitration. The Fifth District Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court was required to resolve the motion to compel arbitration before addressing the motion for summary judgment.
In any commercial dispute, as with any litigation generally, there are some preliminary matters you must satisfy before you can bring your case in a particular place. In the case of a dispute between an airplane seller and its agent brokering the sale, the matter that proved to be a problem for the plaintiff was personal jurisdiction. The seller didn’t have sufficient contacts with Florida, so that meant the agent couldn’t sue it here, the Second District Court of Appeal opined.
In William Shakespeare’s history play, Henry IV, Part I, the bard wrote the line, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” This quotable quote is one that commercial landlords in Florida might do well to remember when experiencing an urge to use self-help in retaking possession of a leased space. The Fourth District Court of Appeal recently upheld a ruling that a commercial tenant in Palm Beach County was entitled to a multi-million-dollar judgment for a wrongful eviction. By engaging in self-help, the landlord was in violation of the law, and the tenant was entitled to the damages the jury awarded to it. The case points out the severe consequences that can await imprudent landlords and the recovery that can be available to tenants harmed as a result of their landlords’ self-help.
In commercial landlord-tenant disputes, one aspect of your case that may become involved is the use of the court registry as a place for the tenant to pay rent monies that are in dispute in the case. The standards of whether a trial court can order payment of rent into the court registry vary significantly, depending on whether the payment is compulsory or something that the tenant voluntarily asks of the court. In a recent constructive eviction case from Miami-Dade County, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s order allowing the tenant to pay rent to the registry. The tenant voluntarily sought to pay the registry, which meant that the trial judge had broad discretion in using or not using the registry.