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What is Civil Contempt of the Court & When is it Applicable?

By July 31, 2023No Comments

The word “contempt” is defined in the dictionary as the “willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge, or legislative body.” In a civil case, an order holding a party or its attorney in “contempt” essentially means that that person has willfully violated some court order, and should be penalized in some way, usually monetary.

The Court’s Authority & Remedial Nature of Civil Contempt

Courts “[have] the inherent authority to enforce its orders by the exercise of its contempt powers.” Acosta v. Creative Grp. Invs., Inc., 756 So. 2d 193, 194 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000). Generally, “when the primary purpose is to obtain compliance with a court order, the proceeding is remedial in nature and is a civil contempt.” Rojo v. Rojo, 84 So. 3d 1259, 1262 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012).

Purging Contempt: The Key to Freedom

In this context, “the contemnor carries the key to his cell in his own pocket, as he can purge himself of the contempt and will be released upon compliance with the court’s order.” Bajcar v. Bajcar, 247 So. 3d 613, 617 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018).

Civil contempt involves a two-stage inquiry. First, the Court must determine the allegedly contemptuous respondent willfully violated the Court’s order; and second, decide what remedy is appropriate. See Orban v. Rorrer, 279 So. 3d 234, 237 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019).

In certain cases, “[r]epeated disregard of court orders and lack of candor by a party toward the Court justifies findings of either civil contempt or indirect criminal contempt.” Lo v. Lo, 878 So. 2d 424, 426 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004).

Accountability for Attorneys: Court’s Approach to Expedite Cases

Similarly, when attorneys fail to adhere to deadlines, the Court, “where appropriate, should utilize fines, public reprimands and contempt orders to expedite the progress of cases.” Gonzalez v. Ferco Motors Corp., 317 So. 3d 214, 216 n.3 (Fla. 3d DCA 2021). “An attorney is not entitled to defy a court’s ruling merely because he thinks it incorrect and can be held in contempt for such conduct even if it turns out the trial court’s ruling was erroneous.” Aquasol Condo. Ass’n v. HSBC Bank USA, 312 So. 3d 105, 108 n.6 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018).

Deciding Appropriate Remedies: Coercive Fines & Purgeable Sanctions

The second step in the Court’s contempt inquiry is to “decide what remedy is appropriate.” Orban, 279 So. 3d at 237. “An example of a valid coercive fine is a per diem fine imposed each day the contemnor fails to comply with the court’s order.” Parisi v. Broward Cty., 769 So. 2d 359, 365 (Fla. 2000). Similarly, “the imposition of a fixed fine that is imposed and suspended pending future compliance with the court’s prior orders is considered a purgeable sanction.” Id.

For more information regarding contempt actions, contact one of our experienced civil trial attorneys at 305-570-2208. You can also email our lead attorney Eduardo directly at

We at Ayala Law PA are passionate about helping those in legal need, so please don’t hesitate to schedule a case evaluation with us online here.

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