COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, HON. JEFF WEILL
SR. TRIAL JUDGE:
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CHRISTOPHER J. WELDY
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: S. CRAIG PANTER
This appeal relates solely to an award of attorneys' fees
pursuant to a contract. W-T Holdings LLC d/b/a Window World
sued Robert Gilchrist for breach of contract after he refused
to pay for windows installed at his home. Window World
alleged that Gilchrist owed $5, 690.35. The case eventually
proceeded to trial in county court. The jury found in favor
of Window World but awarded damages of only $2, 646.
Post-trial, Window World sought attorneys' fees under a
contract provision that required Gilchrist to "pay
all" of Window World's "collection cost,
attorney fees and all other expenses related to
enforcing" the contract. The county court awarded Window
World attorneys' fees of $18, 400, although there was no
evidence that Window World had actually incurred or owed that
Gilchrist appealed to the circuit court. He argued, as he had
in the county court, that the contract did not require him to
pay attorneys' fees in excess of the fees that Window
World actually incurred to enforce the contract. The circuit
court agreed with Gilchrist and reversed and rendered the
judgment to include only "the actual amount of
attorney's fees incurred by Window World" ($1, 323).
Window World filed a motion for reconsideration along with a
new affidavit in which it claimed, for the first time, that
it had actually incurred attorneys' fees of $45, 175. The
circuit court struck the new affidavit and denied Window
World's motion for reconsideration. Window World then
We hold that the circuit court, sitting as an appellate
court, correctly applied the parties' contract to the
record on appeal. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The underlying facts of this case are not important to the
appeal, as neither party contests the jury's verdict
awarding Window World damages of $2, 646. In short,
Gilchrist contracted with Window World to install a number of
windows at his residence for a contract price of $5, 690.35,
but Gilchrist was dissatisfied with Window World's work
and ultimately refused to pay. Window World sued Gilchrist in
county court for the contract price plus attorneys' fees,
other collection costs, and interest. Gilchrist initially
filed a pro se answer and counterclaim in which he sought,
among other relief, $100, 000 for alleged harm to his credit
and reputation and "mental fatigue." Gilchrist
later retained counsel and filed an amended answer and
counterclaim. The amended counterclaim sought damages
"for the cost of repair and proper installation of [a]
picture window" but did not mention mental distress or
demand any specific sum as damages.
The case eventually proceeded to trial, and the jury found in
favor of Window World on its claim for breach of contract but
awarded damages of only $2, 646, or less than half of the
amount Window World alleged was owed. The jury also found in
favor of Window World on Gilchrist's counterclaim.
Post-trial, Window World filed a request for attorneys'
fees pursuant to a provision in the parties' contract.
That provision, which appears in small print in Window
World's preprinted standard form contract, states as
Default/Collection Policy In the event client defaults on
Contract, they will be responsible to pay all collection
cost, attorney fees, court cost, and all other expenses
related to enforcing W-T Holdings LLC, DBA Window World of
Mobile/Gulfport terms of agreement/contract to the [sic]
permitted by law. 1.5% will be added on monthly.
In support of Window World's request for attorneys'
fees, its lawyer (Weldy) submitted an affidavit with
timesheets. Weldy itemized 137.25 hours of work between 2013
and 2015, for which he requested fees of $27, 450. Weldy also
submitted a timesheet for a recent law school graduate
(Riley) who had assisted Weldy with trial preparation and the
trial, although she was not yet admitted to the bar.
Riley's timesheet itemized 72.5 hours in August and
September 2015, for which Window World requested fees of $10,
875. Weldy's affidavit further stated:
8. The fees charged for services in this matter are
reasonable. They are based on an hourly rate of $150 per hour
for a law school honors graduate with extensive trial
practice experience and $200 per hour for a partner. . . .
10. The fees herein are by the hour and attached as
Exhibits B and C are the timesheets for work
performed in this case.
Although Weldy's affidavit referred to "fees charged
for services," the affidavit as a whole was ambiguous as
to whether Window World actually was billed for or owed those
"fees." Window World also submitted an affidavit
from its owner, Henry Santelices, that stated that it had
"incurred collection costs, court costs, and other
expenses related to enforcing the terms of the contract in
the amount of $2, 040.99." Santelices
itemized those costs, but he did not mention any
attorneys' fees that Window World had paid or owed.
In response to Window World's request for attorneys'
fees, Gilchrist highlighted the apparent ambiguity in Window
World's affidavits and pointedly questioned whether
Window World had actually incurred the requested fees.
[N]either of the Affidavits submitted by Window World reveal
the amount of fees Window World actually incurred
with its attorney.
To be sure, we have a detailed record of the lawyer's
time sheets, but that alone does not tell us that the
client (Window World) actually paid those (or owes
those by contract with its attorney). While the
Attorney's Fee Affidavit submitted by Mr. Christopher
Weldy includes an itemization of his time, it never
actually says that he charged Window World $38, 325
for his services.
Similarly, the Affidavit of Henry Santelices contains a list
of his out-of-pocket expenses, but it never reflects that
Window World actually paid (or owes) $38, 325 to Mr. Weldy
for having obtained a jury verdict in the amount of $2646.
As a result, both Affidavits are insufficient to establish
what Window World has paid to (or owes to) its attorney.
Logic and law tells us that before Window World can ask to be
reimbursed for its reasonable attorney's fees,
it must tell the Court what those fees actually were.
In its rebuttal in support of its request for attorneys'
fees, Window World responded to Gilchrist's argument.
However, Window World did not claim that it had
actually paid or owed the amounts reflected in Weldy's
timesheets. Rather, Window World argued:
The issue regarding fees is whether they are reasonable, not
how much the client actually paid. Regardless, counsel for
Window World is producing its contingency fee contract as
Exhibit A. Counsel for Window World pursued
this claim with no money being paid up front by Window World,
and then had to defend Window World against a [counter]claim
for $100, 000. Typically where the fee is contingent,
courts have awarded a multiplier to counsel for taking the
risk associated with a contingent fee matter. . . . Since
$100, 000 was initially at stake for Window World, and the
contingent contract provides for attorney's fees at 50%,
Window World would be entitled to $50, 000 in attorney's
fees . . . .
If Defendant wants to argue that counsel's hourly fees
amount is unreasonable, Window World is amenable to an award
of $50, 000 or whatever multiple of $50, 000 the court deems
A" was a signed "Contingency Fee Contract for Legal
Services" between Window World and Weldy. The agreement
provided that if the case went to trial, Window World would
pay Weldy "Fifty Percent (50%) of any sums
recovered." Near the end of its rebuttal memorandum,
Window World expressly argued: "The fee is contingent in
this matter, which supports an award of fees above the
standard hourly fees requested."
The county court held a hearing on Window World's request
for attorneys' fees. Weldy argued in support of the
request, but he still did not clarify what fees Window World
actually had paid or owed. Gilchrist's attorney began his
argument in response as follows:
Right out of the gate I have to ask for a clarification
from my counsel opposite. He said those fees that he is
seeking were billed. It was not my impression from anything
that was filed that his client was actually billed for
those fees and owes them. If I'm mistaken, I would like
to know that since what he has given us is a contingency
fee contract, not an hourly rate contract. All right, I
guess we are not going to get an answer to that.
further argued, "This contract between Window World and
its lawyer is a contingency fee contract, so the hourly rate
is not what Window World owes, it's not what Window World
was billed." Gilchrist maintained that he could only be
held liable for Window World's actual attorneys'
Weldy returned to the podium for rebuttal but did not provide
any clarification. Rather, he argued that the court should
award at least twice the attorneys' fees that he had
requested because he "took [the case] on a contingency
Your Honor, . . . the attorney's fees paid by Window
World is irrelevant. In cases like this that have been
taken on a contingency fee contract, I cited a case,
[Forbush v. J.C. Penney Co., 98 F.3d 817 (5th Cir.
1996)]. In that case the court found that a multiplier of
two was reasonable when an attorney took a case under a
contingency fee contract.
So even looking at my total fees and applying a multiplier
of two to that would be reasonable. Because I took it on a
contingency fee basis, I was paid nothing up front. This is
all risk I incurred on my end pushing this case to a jury
trial because the defendant won't even make any offer
of judgment in this case.
The court announced its ruling from the bench and
subsequently entered a written order, but neither the oral
ruling nor the written order provided any analysis or
explanation. The court simply awarded $23, 400 for
attorneys' fees-$18, 400 for Weldy's work and an
additional $5, 000 for Riley's work. The court also
awarded costs and expenses in the amount of $2, 040.99 based
on Santelices's affidavit. Gilchrist appealed to circuit
In the circuit court, Gilchrist continued to argue that
Window World was entitled to recover no more than the
attorneys' fees that it had actually incurred under its
agreement with Weldy-i.e., fifty percent of the jury verdict,
or $1, 323. Gilchrist emphasized that there was nothing in
the record ...