MonarchCare, Inc. v. Guardianship of Block, 204 So.3d 508 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016)
In what seems to be a growing trend of appellate decisions involving guardianship fees, this decision involves a trial court's decision to reduce a professional guardian's hourly rate. Here, a professional guardian and an individual served as co-guardians of a ward. The professional guardian billed at its standard hourly rate of $95 per hour, while the individual co-guardian billed at a rate of about $45-$50 per hour. At an earlier hearing, the trial court granted a pending fee request for $95 per hour for the professional guardian, but prospectively capped both guardians fees at $45 per hour.
Subsequent to the entry of that order, a new judge took over the case, and the professional guardian made another request for its fees at $95 per hour. Following an evidentiary hearing, the new judge reduced the professional guardian's rate to $45 per hour. The professional guardian appealed.
The Court held that the court properly considered the factors laid out in F.S. 744.108(2) at the evidentiary hearing. It noted that a previous approval of a guardian's fees would create a presumption that the rate is reasonable. However, the Court felt that in this case, the presumption was a weak one since the prior judge did not hold any hearings to establish the reasonableness of the hourly rate. It also noted that many of the hours billed could have been performed at a lesser rate.
Despite agreeing with the trial court's analysis of the guardianship fees, the Court reversed because it felt that the trial court simply accepted the prior judge's reduction of the fees to $45 per hour when there was no evidence in the record to support such a reduction. It concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion in finding a valid justification for a different rate, but that the reduction of the rate to $45 per hour was not supported by the record.