Florida Supreme Court Says Victims of False Domestic Violence Claims Can Seek Attorney’s Fees
A false charge of domestic violence can have a devastating impact on the accused and their entire family. Domestic violence laws serve an important social function. Yet like any law they are susceptible to abuse. False domestic violence charges are often employed as a weapon to gain the upper hand in divorce or child custody cases. Such acts not only undermine legitimate claims of abuse, they also impose substantial costs on the innocent parties who must defend themselves in court.
Divided Court Resolves Conflict Between Lower Courts
Fortunately a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court may offer some relief for the falsely accused. The Court was asked to decide whether respondents in domestic violence injunction proceedings could seek attorney’s fees and court costs against the petitioner if the case was ultimately dismissed. Florida’s intermediate appellate courts disagreed on the answer to this question, leading the Supreme Court to step in and provide clarification.
The facts of the underlying case are fairly straightforward. The petitioner sought an injunction against the respondent, alleging multiple incidents of dating violence. Such actions are governed under Section 784.046 of the Florida Statutes. A trial court granted a temporary injunction, but the respondent later filed court papers accusing the petitioner of committing perjury. The petitioner then voluntarily dismissed her petition.
The respondent then asked for an award of attorney’s fees against the petitioner. The general rule in Florida (and most states) is that parties are responsible for their own litigation costs. But there is an exception under Section 57.105 of the Florida Statutes for cases where the court finds a losing party’s position “[w]as not supported by the material facts necessary to establish the claim.” This section applies to any “civil proceeding or action” brought in the Florida courts.
The question here was whether this also covered domestic violence injunction cases. In the past, Florida appeals courts have said no. The appeals court in this case, however, said that it did, which created a conflict. By a vote of 4-3, the Supreme Court sided with the respondent sand ruled he could seek attorney’s fees and related costs.
The majority held the “plain language” of Section 57.105 covers domestic violence cases. Nor is there anything in the language of Section 784.046 that prohibits an award of attorney’s fees. And in fact Florida courts have long held that domestic violence injunctions are a type of “civil” action.
Nevertheless, the dissenting justices argued the Florida legislature “never intended for section 57.105 to apply to section 784.046 proceedings.” Indeed, the dissent said the procedural requirements of the attorney’s fees statute are incompatible with those of the domestic violence law. The dissent also expressed its concern that motions for attorney’s feed could “now be used to intimidate a petitioner into withdrawing an otherwise meritorious petition for an injunction for protection out of fear that the petitioner’s claims may be deemed frivolous.”
Have You Been Falsely Accused of Domestic or Dating Violence?
Despite the concerns raised by the dissent, the reality is that there has historically been few, if any, legal consequences for people who intentionally file false claims of domestic violence. The Supreme Court’s decision affords victims of false accusations a chance to seek justice. If you are facing allegations of abuse and need assistance from a qualified Miami domestic violence defense attorney, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at (305) 676-9545.