Florida Appellate Court Upholds Arbitration Decision in Home Construction Dispute

In the recent case of Wells v. Halmac Development, Inc., the plaintiffs contracted in 2008 for general construction work at their home located in Coral Gables. In the next year, the plaintiffs fired the general contractor, and the general contractor filed a lien against the property. The contractor later filed a lawsuit seeking to foreclose on the lien as well as seeking damages for unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and quantum meruit.

After the complaint was filed, the parties agreed to submit the matter to arbitration. The homeowners had also asserted claims against the contractor for misappropriation of funds and breach of contract, as well as a claim against the construction company’s president alleging a fraudulent lien.

In August 2011, the arbitrator concluded that the homeowners were entitled to recovery on the breach of contract claim and their claim for misappropriation of funds. The arbitrator also concluded that the contractor prevailed on his counterclaim to the homeowners’ fraudulent lien claim. Ultimately, the arbitrator concluded that there was no prevailing party in the matter for the purpose of awarding attorneys’ fees to a party.

Both parties filed motions to modify this initial award, seeking a correction of alleged computational errors. The president also sought an order determining who the prevailing party was for the purpose of awarding attorneys’ fees. The parties subsequently filed a series of competing motions. Ultimately, the court issued an order compelling the arbitrator to decide whether the homeowners or the president was the prevailing party. On remand, the arbitrator concluded that there was no prevailing party. The homeowners filed a motion for attorneys’ fees against the president, the construction company, and its attorneys, stating that their claim that the president was the prevailing party was unsupported by fact or law. The president sought an order from the trial court, asking it to declare that the president was the prevailing party, and the trial court granted the motion.

The president then filed a motion seeking attorneys’ fees from the homeowners. The homeowners then filed a writ of mandamus, asking the appellate court to confirm the arbitrator’s determination that there was no prevailing party for the purpose of determining entitlement to attorneys’ fees. The appellate court confirmed that the trial court should have confirmed the arbitrator’s determination and remanded the action.

Real estate or construction contract disputes are incredibly frustrating and stressful. They can also be costly if you are waiting to move into the completed structure or to use it for some other purpose. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, we have assisted numerous Southwest Florida residents with litigating, negotiating, and resolving real estate disputes involving properties in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples. We provide a free consultation to help you learn about the legal options that may be available to you, so call us at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your appointment.

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