Goldman v. Estate of Goldman

Goldman v. Estate of Goldman, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 3d DCA 2015)

This decision deals with an award of attorney's fees and costs against a party without a finding of bad faith by the trial court.  An attorney, in her capacity as Guardian Ad Litem, inadvertently disclosed confidential financial and medical information of the ward to the ward's nieces and nephews.  The trial court held a hearing regarding sanctions against the nieces and nephews, and found that the file had been sent inadvertently and not in bad faith, but still imposed sanctions against them for obtaining the confidential information in violation of the court's confidentiality order.

The nephews and nieces appealed because the trial court did not make an express finding of bad faith conduct.  The Court agreed with the nephews and nieces that such a finding was necessary.  It cited the Moakley v. Smallwood decision, which held that the trial court has the inherent authority to impose fees against an attorney for bad faith conduct, but that the sanction must be based on an express finding of bad faith conduct and must be supported by detailed factual findings.  Moakley v. Smallwood, 826 So.2d 221, 226 (Fla. 2002).  The Court found that this requirement had been expanded to situations involving fees against a litigant as well as an attorney, and thus the trial court's failure to make specific findings regarding bad faith conduct as to each party or attorney against sanctions are to be imposed required reversal.

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