Is the “Bad” Appellate Case Binding or Persuasive?

Posted by David Adelstein on November 14, 2017
Appeal, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Is the “Bad” Appellate Case Binding or Persuasive?

There are times I hear that because the “bad” appellate case is in another appellate district compared to the appellate district where my case is located, that “bad” case is not binding. This sentiment is not necessarily true, particularly if there are no interdistrict conflicting opinions relating to the “bad” appellate case (and, more appropriately, the legal issue that “bad” case deals with).   This was explained by the Florida Supreme Court in Pardo v. State, 596 So.2d 665, 666-67 (Fla.1992):

This Court has stated that “[t]he decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the law of Florida unless and until they are overruled by this [Florida Supreme] Court.” Stanfill v. State, 384 So.2d 141, 143 (Fla.1980). Thus, in the absence of interdistrict conflict, district court decisions bind all Florida trial courts. Weiman v. McHaffie, 470 So.2d 682, 684 (Fla.1985). The purpose of this rule was explained by the Fourth District in State v. Hayes:

The District Courts of Appeal are required to follow Supreme Court decisions. As an adjunct to this rule it is logical and necessary in order to preserve stability and predictability in the law that, likewise, trial courts be required to follow the holdings of higher courts—District Courts of Appeal. The proper hierarchy of decisional holdings would demand that in the event the only case on point on a district level is from a district other than the one in which the trial court is located, the trial court be required to follow that decision. Alternatively, if the district court of the district in which the trial court is located has decided the issue, the trial court is bound to follow it. Contrarily, as between District Courts of Appeal, a sister district’s opinion is merely persuasive.

333 So.2d 51, 53 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976).

In other words, and further noted by the Florida Supreme Court, “Absent an opinion from this Court, all trial courts in this State would be bound by the opinion of the First District [or any appellate district] until there is a contrary decision from the appellate court in their own district.Charles v. Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida, Inc., 209 So.3d 1199, n.2 (Fla. 2017).

Also, federal district and circuit court cases (absent the United States Supreme Court) are not binding precedent on trial courts. Rather, they are persuasive authority. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Edge Family Chiropractic, P.A., 41 So.3d 293, 297 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) (“First, the [federal] cases are not binding precedent; they are, at most, persuasive authority.”); Roland v. Fla. East Coast Ry., LLC, 873 So.2d 1271, n.5 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004) (“This court is bound by decisions of the United States Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court. Decisions of the federal courts of appeals are persuasive but not binding.”) (internal citation omitted).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , ,

Proving Fraud on the Court with Clear and Convincing Evidence

Posted by David Adelstein on November 08, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Proving Fraud on the Court with Clear and Convincing Evidence

When a party files a motion that the opposing party perpetuated a fraud on the court, they are looking for the court to sanction the opposing party, with the harsh remedy of striking the opposing party’s pleadings

Fraud on the court is described as:

The requisite fraud on the court occurs where it can be demonstrated, clearly and convincingly, that a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense.

Perrine v. Henderson, 85 So.3d 1210, 1211-22 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) quoting Cox v. Burke, 706 So.2d 43, 46 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998) (dismissing plaintiff’s case after finding by clear and convincing evidence that plaintiff engaged in fraud on the court by evading or stymying discovery of material facts).  

Fraud on the court is analogous to the adage, “Cheating is a choice, not a mistake.”  Hence, if you deliberately lie and stymie the discovery of facts central to the dispute, you are materially cheating, because you are preventing the opposing party from ascertaining those central facts and fully evaluating and analyzing the issues in dispute.

Dismissing an action, however, is a very harsh remedy to be used sparingly unless clear and convincing evidence supports “the most blatant showing of fraud, pretense, collusion or other similar wrongdoing.” Ibarra v. Izaguirre, 985 So.2d 1117, 1119 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008) (reversing dismissal of action since clear and convincing evidence did not exist to warrant dismissal). Although, the court can certainly entertain other less harsh sanctions.

The burden supporting fraud on the court with clear and convincing evidence is on the party filing the motion. Villansenor v. Martinez, 991 So.2d 433, 436 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008). Such a finding requires an evidentiary basis / hearing. See id.; Ramey v. Haverty Furniture Companies, Inc., 993 So.2d 1014, 1018 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008). But if an evidentiary hearing is not requested, it is incumbent on the party claimed to have perpetuated a fraud on the court to request an evidentiary hearing. Obregon v. Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2347A (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (finding that plaintiff failed to preserve lack of evidentiary hearing for appellate review on a motion to dismiss for fraud on the court by not objecting and not presenting any counter evidence).

Bottomline:  Do not engage in fraud on the court.  Just do not make this deliberate choice!  Ultimately, the facts are what they are and a theory of the case needs to be developed based on that evidence. Cases and the credibility of witnesses need to be assessed based on those facts.  

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , ,

Striking / Excusing a Prospective Juror for Bias during Voir Dire

Posted by David Adelstein on November 04, 2017
Appeal, Burden of Proof, Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Striking / Excusing a Prospective Juror for Bias during Voir Dire

An attorney’s opportunity to question prospective jurors (the jury venire) is an important part of the trial process. This is known as voir dire. Attorneys want to ask tailored questions to determine those persons in the venire that should be stricken for cause, those for which they should exercise a peremptory challenge, and those, quite frankly, they want to sit on the jury panel. There is strategy involved including wanting to develop a rapport with jurors. These are the potential folks that will render a verdict in the case and analyze the factual evidence based on the law (jury instructions). Having the opportunity to speak to them and ask them questions cannot be overlooked! Parties need a reasonable opportunity to ask prospective jurors questions during voir dire.

An important part of voir dire is to figure out biases of potential jurors. Obviously, if a juror cannot truly be impartial or fair based on their preconceived biases, then an attorney will want them stricken for cause. But in order to truly determine whether a juror has a bias that should render them stricken for cause, both sides need the reasonable opportunity to question the venire. Otherwise, the determination of a juror’s prejudicial bias will be one-sided based on one side’s questioning without any context from the questions the opposing side will ask.

In recent case, Irmi v. Estate of Dale Moyer, 42 Fla. L. Weekly, D2156b (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), dealing with wrongful death associated with cigarette smoking, the plaintiff’s counsel asked the venire whether they felt that if someone has been smoking essentially all of their life whether their family should not be allowed to file suit against the tobacco companies. Numerous jurors felt that the family should not be allowed to sue in this scenario. Such jurors were then asked whether this belief was strongly held and if they had a reasonable doubt whether they could set this feeling aside (establishing the bias of the jurors). The defense counsel wanted the opportunity to question such jurors in private to see if any of them could be rehabilitated (so they are not stricken for cause) but the court would not allow this. The defense counsel then wanted the opportunity to speak with the entire venire panel before the court struck jurors for cause based on their bias regarding long term cigarette smoking. The court denied this, over the defense counsel’s objection, and allowed approximately 30 jurors to leave without the defense ever questioning them.

After a jury verdict was entered for the plaintiff, the defendant moved for a new trial arguing that the court erroneously dismissed jurors for cause after the plaintiff’s questioning during voir dire without ever allowing the defense to question these jurors. The trial court recognized this error and granted a new trial because the court prevented the defense from its reasonable opportunity to question jurors about biases based on the plaintiff’s voir dire questioning. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s granting of a new trial.

When an appellate court reviews a trial court’s order granting a new trial, it is done under a limited abuse of discretion standard of review. “A trial court’s discretion to grant a new trial is of such firmness that it would not be disturbed except on a clear showing of abuse.” Irmi, supra, quoting Thigpen v. United Parcel Servs., Inc., 990 So.2d 639, 645 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).

Here, the trial court granted a new trial because it realized it excused jurors for cause based on bias without allowing the defense the opportunity to ever question these jurors. When a trial court is deciding whether to excuse a juror for bias, the test is whether the juror possesses the state of mind necessary to render a verdict in accordance with the evidence and not based upon preconceived opinions.” Irmi, supra (internal quotation and citation omitted). This means that each side – both the plaintiff and defense – must be given an opportunity to orally question jurors so that the entire context of the juror’s answers can be considered. “A trial court must excuse a juror where there is reasonable doubt whether the juror is impartial. To determine whether such reasonable doubt exists, the trial court should consider the context and entirety of the juror’s responses.” Irmi, supra (internal quotation and citation omitted).

In this situation: “The trial court had the unique perspective to reflect upon its own decision to eliminate thirty-one people from the venire without allowing the defense to ask a single question. We provide great deference to trial courts in making such decisions. We agree with the trial court in correcting its initial error and granting a new trial.” Irmi, supra.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Election of Remedies Doctrine and Claims for Specific Performance and Breach of Contract

Posted by David Adelstein on October 26, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Election of Remedies Doctrine and Claims for Specific Performance and Breach of Contract

In an earlier article, I talked about the election of remedies doctrine. The purpose of this election of remedies doctrine is to preclude the plaintiff from obtaining a windfall by double-recovering its damages under alternative (or mutually exclusive) theories of liability.  If a plaintiff could double recover on mutually exclusive theories of liability based on inconsistent facts, then plaintiffs would recover double than what they are rightfully entitled to.  That isn’t fair!

Before a trial court can apply the election of remedies doctrine, it must determine whether the remedies are factually consistent. A party may not obtain judgment for two remedies that are factually inconsistent.

Remedies are factually consistent when they “logically can coexist on the same facts.”  Remedies are factually inconsistent when one remedy “implies negation of the underlying facts necessary for the other.” 

***

When remedies are factually consistent, the “mere election or choice to pursue one of such remedies does not operate as a waiver of the right to pursue the other remedies.”  Where remedies are factually consistent, “only a full satisfaction of the right asserted will estop the plaintiff from pursuing her other consistent remedies.”

The Allegro at Boynton Beach, L.L.C. v. Pearson, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2277d (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) (internal citations omitted).

In The Allegro at Boynton Beach, the plaintiff had a right of first refusal over real property owned by the property owner. The property owner refused to honor the right of first refusal and entered into a purchase and sale contract to sell the property to another buyer. The plaintiff sued the property owner for breach of contract for monetary damages and for specific performance (to force the property owner to sell the property to it based on its right of first refusal and prevent the sale to the buyer). Both claims were predicated on the same facts.

The plaintiff moved for summary judgment where its motion claimed that upon election of its remedy, it seeks damages or specific performance. The trial court granted the motion finding that the property owners failed to comply with the right of first refusal and the right of first refusal remained in effect.   The property owner, trying to be cunning, decided to cancel its purchase and sale contract with the buyer and enter a new contract with the buyer for a higher purchase price, giving the agreement to the plaintiff to exercise its right of first refusal within 10 days.

The plaintiff quickly moved for a final judgment of specific performance based on its election of remedy. The trial court denied this motion finding that the plaintiff already made an election of remedies to recover monetary damages and that the property owner’s original purchase and sale contract with the buyer was not longer effective due to the property owner cancelling the contract.

The appellate court reversed both of the trial court’s findings.

First, the appellate court held that the plaintiff’s remedies seeking breach of contract and specific performance were factually consistent since they were based on the same underlying factual transaction. In other words, they were not mutually exclusive remedies; rather, they were factually consistent. Only the full satisfaction of the plaintiff’s monetary damages would prevent the plaintiff from pursuing specific performance.

Second, the appellate court quickly rejected the property owner’s cunning effort to cancel the original purchase and sale contract only to enter into a new agreement at a higher price. The appellate court stated when a property owner enters into a purchase contract, “a pre-existing right of refusal is converted into an irrevocable option to purchase.” The Allegro at Boynton Beach, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted). The property owner and buyer could not negate this irrevocable option by simply terminating the purchase and sale contract only to enter a new agreement.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Contingency Fee Multiplier is NOT just for the Rare and Exceptional Dispute

Posted by David Adelstein on October 19, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on The Contingency Fee Multiplier is NOT just for the Rare and Exceptional Dispute

In a great victory for those handling difficult contingency fee disputes (particularly contingency fee disputes dealing with economic damages, such as me), the Florida Supreme Court held that the contingency fee multiplier is not to be applied only in the rare and exceptional case. Oh no! Had the Court entered such a ruling, this would have virtually eliminated the application of the contingency fee multiplier. Boo!  This multiplier is important as it incentivizes those attorneys that handle difficult contingency fee cases by adding a multiplier on the reasonably determined attorney’s fees. (For example, if the Court determines that an attorney’s reasonable attorney’s fees are $35,000, the Court can order a multiplier of 2, meaning the attorney’s fees would be $70,000). As they say, with risk comes reward!

In what I think to be noteworthy language regarding the contingency fee multiplier, the Court pronounced:

[T]he contingency fee multiplier provides trial courts with the flexibility to ensure that lawyers, who take a difficult case on a contingency fee basis, are adequately compensated. We also do not agree that the contingency fee multiplier encourages “nonmeritorious claims” and would, instead, posit that solely because a case is “difficult” or “complicated” does not mean that the case is nonmeritorious. Indeed, without the option of a contingency fee multiplier, those with difficult and complicated cases will likely be unable or find it difficult to obtain counsel willing to represent them.

***

The point being, the lodestar amount, which awards an attorney for the work performed on the case, is properly analyzed through the hindsight of the actual outcome of the case, whereas the contingency fee multiplier, which is intended to incentivize the attorney to take a potentially difficult or complex case, is properly analyzed through the same lens as the attorney when making the decision to take the case. We disagree that the possibility of receiving a contingency fee multiplier leads to a “windfall.” … While the attorney for the insurer charges and receives an hourly rate regardless of whether the defense is successful, the insured’s attorney bears the risk of never being compensated for the number of hours spent litigating the case. This risk, among other factors, is what entitles the attorney to seek, and the trial court to consider, the application of a contingency fee multiplier.

Joyce v. Federated National Ins. Co., 42 Fla.L.Weekly S852a (Fla. 2017).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

Tags: , ,

Arbitration is an Appealable Non-Final Order

Posted by David Adelstein on October 14, 2017
Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Arbitration is an Appealable Non-Final Order

Arbitration is a creature of contract. If a contract requires arbitration that means the parties are required to arbitrate their disputes as opposed to litigate their disputes. Instead of their being a judge or jury, there will be an arbitrator.

There are three considerations when determining whether a dispute is subject to arbitration:

1) Is there a valid written agreement to arbitrate (such as an arbitration provision in a contract)?

2) Is there an arbitrable issue? And

3) Has the right to arbitrate the issue or dispute been waived?

Chaikin v. Parker Waichman LLP, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2165b (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) quoting Jackson v. Shakespeare Found., Inc., 108 So.3d 587, 593 (Fla. 2013).

Entitlement to arbitration, and the granting or denying a party’s motion to compel arbitration, is a non-final order that is appealable. Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a) (3)(C)(iv).  Typically, when a party moves to compel arbitration and that motion is granted or denied, there is an appeal of this non-final order.

An order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is reviewed on appeal with a de novo standard of review. Chaikin, supra, quoting Roth v. Cohen, 941 So.2d 496, 499 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006). Whether a party has waived the right to arbitrate “‘is a question of fact, reviewed on appeal for competent, substantial evidence to support the lower court’s findings.’” Chaikin, supra, quoting Green Tree Servicing, LLC v. McLeod, 15 So.3d 682, 686 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009).

For example, in Chaikin (the facts discussed in more detail here), the appellate court reversed the trial court and held that a party waived its right to compel arbitration of a counterclaim by virtue of the party initiating the lawsuit to begin with. By the party filing the lawsuit, they voluntarily relinquished the right to compel the counterclaim – based on the same facts as the complaint — to arbitration.  As the appellate court held, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander — a party cannot compel a counterclaim to arbitration when the same party filed a lawsuit.

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Strictly Complying with Procedural Requirements when Moving to Amend to Add Punitive Damages

Posted by David Adelstein on October 01, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Strictly Complying with Procedural Requirements when Moving to Amend to Add Punitive Damages

Punitive damages can be an important component of a plaintiff’s damages. No doubt about it. No defendant wants the jury to be able to determine whether to award these damages or the quantum of punitive damages associated with its/his/her gross negligence or intentional misconduct.  Punitive damages can be a game changer.

The objective behind punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer-defendant and deter the wrongful conduct, rather than to compensate the plaintiff. Estate of Despain v. Avante Group, Inc., 900 So.2d 637, 640 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005). “Because the amount of an award [of punitive damages] may be a pittance to a rich man and ruination to a poor one, the goal of punishment must of necessity take into account the financial worth of the wrongdoer.” Id. at 641. For this reason, once the court grants a motion to allow punitive damages, this allows the plaintiff to seek financial worth discovery on the wrongdoer-defendant. Id.

If you are interested in preserving your rights to assert punitive damages, you must comply with both Florida Statute s. 768.72 [Pleading in civil actions; claim for punitive damages] and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(f) [Claims for Punitive Damages].

Florida Statute s. 768.72 provides in relevant part:

(1) In any civil action, no claim for punitive damages shall be permitted unless there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. The claimant may move to amend her or his complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages as allowed by the rules of civil procedure. The rules of civil procedure shall be liberally construed so as to allow the claimant discovery of evidence which appears reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence on the issue of punitive damages. No discovery of financial worth shall proceed until after the pleading concerning punitive damages is permitted.

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(f) provides:

A motion for leave to amend a pleading to assert a claim for punitive damages shall make a reasonable showing, by evidence in the record or evidence to be proffered by the claimant, that provides a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages. The motion to amend can be filed separately and before the supporting evidence or proffer, but each shall be served on all parties at least 20 days before the hearing.

Both Florida Statute s. 768.72 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(f) MUST be considered in detail when moving to amend to add punitive damages. When a court grants a plaintiff’s motion to amend to add punitive damages, this gives the defendant the right to file an appeal for certiorari relief to argue that the plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Section 768.72 and Rule 1.190(f).   See Fetlar, LLC v. Suarez, 2017 WL 3879968 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (reversing motion to amend authorizing punitive damages because the plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Section 768.72 and Rule 1.190).  This appellate right makes it all the more important to ensure that the procedural requirements are being strictly complied with when moving to amend to add punitive damages. 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , ,

Abandonment of Post-Trial Motions through Notice of Appeal? Not Anymore…

Posted by David Adelstein on September 23, 2017
Appeal / Comments Off on Abandonment of Post-Trial Motions through Notice of Appeal? Not Anymore…

 

In an earlier posting, I discussed the difference between a motion for rehearing and motion for reconsideration.  

From that posting, you know that a motion for rehearing is a post-trial motion and, in particular, a motion that applies post-judgment. A properly filed motion for rehearing will toll the time to file an appeal. 

There are times where a party after a judgment is entered will file a motion for rehearing. Then, before that motion is ruled on, will file a notice of appeal. Why? The party is not appealing the order on the motion for rehearing because such an order has not been issued. Thus, the party is filing a notice of appeal of the judgment – yes, the same judgment that prompted the motion for rehearing.

Previously, the law stated that the party abandoned its post-trial motion for rehearing. “[B]y filing a notice of appeal prior to obtaining a ruling on the motion for rehearing, Appellant abandoned its motion.” Dep’t of Revenue v. Vanamburg, 174 So.3d 640, 642 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) (“Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.020(i)(3) provided that if a motion for hearing or a motion to alter or amend, among other post-judgment motions, is filed ‘and a notice of appeal is filed before the filing of a signed, written order disposing of all such motions, all motions filed by the appealing party that are pending at the time shall be deemed abandoned, and the final order shall be deemed rendered by the filing of the notice of appeal.’”). See also Kee v. Bailey, 634 So.2d 654 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994) (“The Florida Supreme Court has clearly stated that a party abandons previously filed post-judgment motions when he files a notice of appeal of that judgment.”).

In 2015, Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.020(i)(3) was amended to eliminate the abandonment of such post-judgment motions.  Now, the  Rule states that if the Notice of Appeal is filed before the trial court issues an order on the post-judgment motions, the appeal is held in abeyance:

If such a motion or motions have been filed and a notice of appeal is filed before the filing of a signed, written order disposing of all such motions, the appeal shall be held in abeyance until the filing of a signed, written order disposing of the last such motion.

And, what if the party filed a motion for rehearing, but then withdrew the motion for rehearing and filed a notice of appeal? In this scenario, “the rendition of the final judgment in this circumstance occurs at the time the notice of appeal is filed, not at the earlier time when the final judgment is entered.” Rice v. 1989 Ford Bronco, 609 So.2d 639, 640 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992).   In other words, when a party abandons its timely filed post-trial motion, the abandonment occurs when the notice of appeal is filed. And, thus, the time to file the notice of appeal is not initiated when the final judgment is entered, but when the post-trial motion is abandoned such as through the filing of the notice of appeal. See Rice, supra, (denying motion to dismiss appeal as untimely due to post-trial motion being abandoned by party filing notice of appeal).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , ,

Referral Sources can be a Protected Legitimate Business Interest

Posted by David Adelstein on September 16, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Referral Sources can be a Protected Legitimate Business Interest

In a big case for employers that rely on referrals for the viability of their business, the Florida Supreme Court held that referral sources may be a protected legitimate business interest under Florida Statute s. 542.335 based on the context and proof.  Hence, referral sources can be protected under a non-compete / non-solicitation agreement that prohibits the employee, upon leaving, from soliciting referrals for a period of time.   White v. Mederi Caretenders Visiting Services of Southeast Florida, LLC, 42 Fla. L. Weekly S803a (Fla. 2017) (holding that referral sources for a home health care company may be a protected legitimate business interest depending on the context and proof).

This is a big win for employers that have employees sign non-compete and non-solicitation agreements as a condition of employment to safeguard referral lists and sources.   Notably, the term “referral sources” is not specifically called out in Florida Statute s. 542.335, which is a statute that deals with valid restraints on trade (or restrictive covenants in employment agreements such as non-compete or non-solicitation-type agreements). However, the Florida Supreme Court confirmed that the specific legitimate business interests called out in the statute are non-exhaustive meaning other interests, such as referral sources, can constitute a legitimate business interest of an employer.   The context and proof is important, however, with respect to any business interest to establish it is actually a legitimate business interest that should be protected in a restrictive covenant (such as a non-compete or non-solicitation-type agreement).

In language that I find to be extremely germane, the Florida Supreme Court stated:

However, the statute ameliorates any concern regarding overly restrictive covenants. Section 542.335 commands courts to modify, or blue pencil, a non-competition agreement that is “overbroad, overlong, or otherwise not reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate business interest,” instructing courts to “grant only the relief reasonably necessary to protect such interest.” Thus, section 542.335’s phrasing of the business interests that may be protected in broad terms and its restricting courts from applying certain rules of contract construction, the statute grants trial courts fairly wide discretion to fashion the appropriate context-dependent remedy

White, supra, (internal citations omitted).

This language is germane because it reaffirms a trial court’s wide discretion to modify or blue-pencil (red-line) a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement that may be overly broad to protect only those business interests the court deems legitimate. Thus, the trial court does not have to deem the agreement unenforceable, but can modify the terms of the restrictive covenant language and fashion the appropriate remedy to protect the true, legitimate business interests of an employer.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , , , , ,

Motion for Rehearing or Reconsideration: What is the Difference?

Posted by David Adelstein on September 03, 2017
Appeal / Comments Off on Motion for Rehearing or Reconsideration: What is the Difference?

Motions titled rehearing and reconsideration are routinely used interchangeably, as if there is no difference between the name “rehearing” and the name “reconsideration. There is a difference though. A motion for a rehearing is distinct from a motion for reconsideration and this distinction is key. Not understanding the difference between a motion for rehearing and motion for reconsideration can result in an untimely appeal.

Motions for rehearing apply to final judgments. They are filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 because they “only apply to final judgments and ‘those orders that partake of the character of a final judgment, i.e., orders that complete the judicial labor on a portion of the cause.’” Seigler v. Bell, 148 So.3d 473, 478 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) quoting Francisco v. Victoria Marine Shipping, Inc., 486 So.2d 1386, 1290, n.6 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986).

Motions for reconsideration, on the other hand, apply to non-final, interlocutory orders prior to final judgment. Helmich v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 136 So.3d 763, 765 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014). These motions are based on the trial court’s “‘inherent authority to reconsider and, if deemed appropriate, alter or retract any of its nonfinal rulings prior to entry of the final judgment or order terminating an action.’” Seigler, 148 So.3d at 478 quoting Silverstrone v. Edell, 721 So.2d 1173, 1175 (Fla. 1998).

Although a motion for rehearing and motion for reconsideration are oftentimes mistitled, a court will treat a mistitled motion for reconsideration as a motion for rehearing and vice-versa. Seigler, 148 So.3d at 479. Mistitling or not understanding the distinction between the two motions can be problematic since “[a] motion for reconsideration does not toll the time to file an appeal from a non-final order.Agere Systems, Inc. v. All American Crating, Inc., 931 So.2d 244 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006). Conversely, a properly filed motion for rehearing will toll the time to file an appeal. Remington v. Remington, 705 So.2d 920, 922 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997); But see E-Z Marine Supply, Inc. v. Wachovia Commercial Mortgage, Inc., 875 So.2d 279 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004 (improperly filed motion for rehearing will not toll time to file appeal).

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

Tags: , ,

Contact Me Now

Prove YOUR Case!

Contact:

David Adelstein ♦

(954) 361-4720 ♦

dadelstein@gmail.com