Litigation in administrative proceedings affords many opportunities to move for attorneys’ fees. One such opportunity is provided in section 120.569(2)(e), Florida Statutes.
Under that statute, litigants can move for attorneys’ fees whenever they believe a document is filed for an improper purpose. The improper purposes include a document filed to harass, to delay, or for frivolous purposes. § 120.569(2)(e), Fla. Stat. The moving party must identify the specific document that is improper. Id.
At first blush, moving for sanctions under section 120.569(2)(e) appear similar to moving for sanctions under section 57.105(2), Florida Statutes. But section 120.569(2)(e) has a unique aspect: the statute does not contain a time requirement for seeking sanctions. Cf. § 57.105(4), Fla. Stat. (requiring that the moving party provide 21-days’ notice).
The First District Court of Appeal recently confirmed that section 120.569(2)(e) has no time requirement. Palafox, LLC v. Diaz, 334 So. 3d 353 (Fla. 1st DCA 2022).
In Palafox, a party moved for fees under section 120.569(2)(e), arguing that a pleading was filed for an improper purpose. After a hearing on the motion, the Administrative Law Judge entered a final order finding that the pleading was improper but declining to assess fees because the motion was not filed until the end of litigation. The ALJ reasoned that the motion should have been filed immediately after the improper pleading.
The party then appealed the final order to the First DCA. § 120.68(1)(a), Fla. Stat. On appeal, the First DCA reversed the order. To reach its holding, the First DCA analyzed the language of section 120.569(2)(e), which states that fees shall be imposed whenever a document is filed for an improper purpose.
Based on this mandatory “shall” language, the First DCA held that the statute does not have a time requirement. Rather, so long as the ALJ continues to have jurisdiction, a sanction is required whenever the ALJ determines a document is filed for an improper purpose. Palafox, 334 So. 3d at 354-56.
Administrative litigation provides several opportunities for fees. When litigating a case, it is important to keep section 120.569(2)(e) in mind. If a document is filed for an improper purpose, section 120.569(2)(e) is a useful tool to potentially recoup time and fees spent addressing the improper document.
Jonathan Taylor is an associate attorney with The Law Offices of Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, P.A. Mr. Taylor concentrates in the areas of Florida tax appeals and general administrative appeals. Mr. Taylor also volunteers with Guardian ad Litem to handle appellate matters. Mr. Taylor can be reached at 954-234-2884 or firstname.lastname@example.org.