Business Law 101 / Eviction Trials- Closing
By Albert L. Kelley
For the last few weeks we’ve been discussing evictions, specifically eviction trials. As I’ve covered in previous columns, the trials begin with an opening statement first by the plaintiff (landlord) followed by an opening statement by the defendant (tenant). After the opening statement, the landlord presents their evidence. This is by witness testimony, including the testimony of the landlord, and the introduction of any written documents necessary to prove their case. Each witness may be cross-examined by the tenant, and any improper questions asked by the landlord may be objected to by the tenant. When the landlord has finished presenting their case, the tenant may ask for a directed verdict which is simply a request of the court to dismiss the landlord’s case for failure to prove all the elements for the eviction. If the court grants this request, the case is over and the tenant remains in the property. If the court denies the request, the tenant will then put on their defense showing the court why they should not be evicted. This is also done through witness testimony and any written documents necessary.
After both sides have finished their case, they get to present their closing argument. The closing argument is a summary of what the evidence showed and an argument as to why the evidence supports that party’s position. Now let’s be clear, the word argument does not mean you yell at the judge. If you try yelling at the judge, you’ll likely find yourself in contempt of court. In this sense, argument simply means to explain how the facts and the law require the court to rule in your favor. Like with the trial, the landlord makes the first closing argument and then the tenant can make theirs. Once the closing arguments are concluded, the Court evaluates the evidence and makes a ruling. Most of the time in eviction cases, the Court rules from the bench; this means that the Court makes a ruling immediately. If there is any complexity to the case, the Court may take the issue “under advisement”. This means that the Court wants to take more time to evaluate the issue or research points of law before issuing a ruling. The Court then mails the final judgment to the parties.
If the Court enters judgment for the landlord, they will order the Clerk of Court to issue a Writ of Possession. We will get into that process later. The Court will generally also Order the Tenant to pay the Landlord’s court costs, including the filing fee and the cost of service of process.
If the prevailing party hired an attorney, they can ask for an award of attorney fees, but the request must be made within 30 days of the Court’s judgment, regardless of whether it is a judgment for the Landlord or the Tenant. The Court will often reserve jurisdiction on the issue of attorney fees and rule on it at a later hearing. Although you may be able to ask for fees, whether they will be granted is another question. Generally, in Florida, attorney fees are only awarded in contract cases where the contract specifically allows for attorney fees and in other cases where authorized by statute (such as security deposit cases). There are very few situations where the statutes authorize attorney fees. It is also important to remember that in litigation, if attorney fees are awardable to one side, they are also awardable to the other. This means that if you lose, you may have to pay the legal fees for the opposing party. Finally, if the court awards attorney fees, the award only covers fees up until the time the court makes the award. In other words you may still owe fees do not recoverable. I will explain this next week.
Al Kelley is a Florida business law attorney located in Key West and previously taught business law, personnel law and labor law at St. Leo University. He is also the author of “Basics of Business Law” “Basics of Florida’s Small Claims Court” and “Basics of Florida’s Landlord-Tenant Law” (Absolutely Amazing e-Books). This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.