Appeal

Not All Non-Final Orders are Immediately Appealable

Posted by David Adelstein on July 30, 2017
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Many non-final orders are NOT immediately appealable. The immediate right to appeal non-final orders are enumerated in Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130. (And, prior postings have discussed the burden in moving for a writ of certiorari based on a non-final order.) Fair or unfair. These are the rules that govern appellate proceedings. When you receive a non-final order that you believe impacts rights and decisions moving forward, make sure to review Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130 regarding those immediately appealable non-final orders.

 

In a recent insurance coverage dispute (discussed here), the trial court declared that the insurer had a duty to defend its insured in a personal injury lawsuit.   This declaration was issued in response to a motion for summary judgment. But, the order granting the summary judgment was a non-final order. The trial court did not enter a judgment against the insurer and did not declare the insurer was obligated to indemnify its insurer. Instead, the trial court simply declared that the insurer had an obligation to defend its insured in the lawsuit based on the underlying allegations in the lawsuit. The insurer did not like this declaration from the trial court and appealed.

 

The Third District dismissed the appeal holding that the trial court’s order was not an appealable non-final order.   Just because the trial court issued an order granting an insured’s summary judgment does not in of itself make that an appealable final order. If there are no words of finality concluding the dispute, the order granting summary judgment is simply a non-final order.   In this case, all the trial court declared was that the insurer had a duty to defend – but there was no declaration regarding the duty to indemnify or regarding potential damages.  Hence, the appellate court did not have jurisdiction to entertain the immediate appeal of the non-final order.

 

 

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.

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Insurance Policy Construction is a Question of Law

Posted by David Adelstein on July 15, 2017
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I am sure you have an insurance policy…some type of policy. An automobile liability policy. A commercial general liability policy. A professional liability policy. A property insurance policy.   A directors and officers liability policy. A workers compensation insurance policy. There are many types of insurance policies. I am sure you have some insurance policy to protect you or your business’s needs or risks.   You may have even been involved in an insurance coverage dispute or have had issues dealing with insurance coverage.

If you read any one of your insurance policies, you will probably be left with more questions than answers. You will be asking yourself “what does this mean?” or “what does this say?” and will often be left bemoaning “huh!?!” with every other sentence you read.  This is the exact reason why there are insurance coverage disputes.

When it comes to insurance coverage disputes and the interpretation of the language in an insurance policy, the Florida Supreme Court importantly explained:

Insurance policy construction is a question of law subject to de novo review.  Courts construe insurance contracts according to their plain language.  However, “any ambiguity which remains after reading each policy as a whole and endeavoring to give every provision its full meaning and operative effect must be liberally construed in favor of coverage and strictly against the insurer.”  A provision is ambiguous if it is “susceptible to two reasonable interpretations, one providing coverage and the other excluding coverage.”  The ambiguity must be genuine, and the lack of a definition for an operative term “does not, by itself, create an ambiguity “When a term in an insurance policy is undefined, it should be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and courts may look to legal and non-legal dictionary definitions to determine such a meaning.” 

Government Employees Insurance Co. v. Macedo, 42 Fla. L. Weekly S731a (Fla. 2017) (internal citations omitted).

Obviously, if you have an insurance coverage dispute, you want to make sure you are represented by an attorney that understands the complexities of insurance coverage.  Nonetheless, it is imperative that you understand that insurance policy construction is a question of law for the Court with a de novo standard of appellate review.

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.

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Timely Move for Appellate Attorney’s Fees (if You have a Basis!)

Posted by David Adelstein on June 25, 2017
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Moving for appellate attorney’s fees? If you do, make sure you TIMELY file a motion!  Appeals take time…in many instances, lots of time…and if there is a basis to recover attorney’s fees, you want to make sure a motion is timely filed and supported by a contractual or statutory basis.

Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.400 governs appellate costs and fees.   This Rule provides:

(a) Costs. Costs shall be taxed in favor of the prevailing party unless the court orders otherwise. Taxable costs shall include

(1) fees for filing and service of process;

(2) charges for preparation of the record and any hearing or trial transcripts necessary to determine the proceeding;

(3) bond premiums; and

(4) other costs permitted by law.

Costs shall be taxed by the lower tribunal on a motion served no later than 45 days after rendition of the court’s order. If an order is entered either staying the issuance of or recalling a mandate, the lower tribunal is prohibited from taking any further action on costs pending the issuance of a mandate or further order of the court.

(b) Attorneys’ Fees. With the exception of motions filed pursuant to rule 9.410(b), a motion for attorneys’ fees shall state the grounds on which recovery is sought and shall be served not later than:

(1) in appeals, the time for service of the reply brief; or

(2) in original proceedings, the time for service of the petitioner’s reply to the response to the petition.

The assessment of attorneys’ fees may be remanded to the lower tribunal. If attorneys’ fees are assessed by the court, the lower tribunal may enforce payment.

(c) Review. Review of orders rendered by the lower tribunal under this rule shall be by motion filed in the court within 30 days of rendition.

The entitlement to attorney’s fees must be supported by a statutory or contractual basis. State, Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Trauth, 971 So.2d 906, 908 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007).   It is incumbent on a party to timely file a motion for appellate attorney’s fees if they want to recover attorney’s fees relating to the appeal.  An appellate court has jurisdiction to award appellate attorney’s fees. Bartow HMA, LLC v. Kirkland, 146 So.3d 1213, 1215 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014).   “Once the appellate court determines that an award of appellate attorney’s fees is appropriate, a mandate is issued to the trial court to impose the fees after conducting a hearing. Absent a mandate, the trial court has no jurisdiction to award appellate attorney’s fees.” Respiratory Care Services, Inc. v. Murray D. Shear, P.A., 715 So.2d 1054, 1056 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998).

 

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.

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Stay Money Judgment Pending Appeal

Posted by David Adelstein on February 24, 2017
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A money judgment is entered against you, but you are going to appeal. Can the collection of the money judgment be stayed pending appellate review? Yes.

Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.310 provides in material portion:

(a) Application. Except as provided by general law and in subdivision (b) of this rule, a party seeking to stay a final or non-final order pending review shall file a motion in the lower tribunal, which shall have continuing jurisdiction, in its discretion, to grant, modify, or deny such relief. A stay pending review may be conditioned on the posting of a good and sufficient bond, other conditions, or both.

(b) Exceptions.

(1) Money Judgments. If the order is a judgment solely for the payment of money, a party may obtain an automatic stay of execution pending review, without the necessity of a motion or order, by posting a good and sufficient bond equal to the principal amount of the judgment plus twice the statutory rate of interest on judgments on the total amount on which the party has an obligation to pay interest. Multiple parties having common liability may file a single bond satisfying the above criteria.

A recent opinion out of the First District Court of Appeals shed some light on these provisions (even though there is conflicting opinions in other appellate jurisdictions). See Silver Beach Towers Property Owners Association, Inc. v. Silver Beach Investments of Destin, LC, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D442c (Fla. 1st DCA 2017).

The Court explained that the money judgment exception above in Rule 9.310(b)(1) “allows a party in an appeal of a money judgment to obtain a stay from the lower tribunal without following the procedure outlined in rule 9.310(a), which requires the filing of a motion to stay with the lower tribunal.Silver Beach Towers, supra.   In other words, if a party wants an automatic stay, the party can follow the procedure in the money judgment exception and the trial court has no authority to modify the bond amount. Indeed, the party does not need to file a motion.

However, if a party does not want to follow this automatic stay procedure, the party can still file a motion with the trial court under 9.310(a) where the trial court can condition the stay on the posting of a bond amount in the court’s discretion. Thus, 9.310(a) gives the party an alternative option to utilize by filing a motion with the trial court and letting the trial court determine the conditions warranting an appellate stay.  For parties appealing a monetary judgment, this case gives them authority to argue under to stay the money judgment for a bond amount that is perhaps less than the automatic stay bond amount found in Rule 9.310(b)(1).

 

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.

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Quick Note: So You Want to Appeal an Injunction Entered Against You…

Posted by David Adelstein on January 17, 2017
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So you want to appeal the issuance of an injunction entered against you. (There are numerous reasons why injunctive relief may be entered by the court in a civil context – check out this article as an example.) “If the injunction rests on factual findings, then a trial court’s order must be affirmed absent an abuse of discretion; but if the injunction rests on purely legal matters, then an injunction is reviewed de novo.” Nipper v. Walton County, Florida, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D171a (Fla. 1st DCA 2017). Stated differently, there is an abuse of discretion standard of appellate review if the injunction is based on factual findings by the trial court. But, assuming the facts are not in dispute and the injunction is based on a matter of law, there is a de novo standard of appellate review.

 

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.

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Appealing Entitlement to Attorney’s Fees

Posted by David Adelstein on January 08, 2017
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After a party prevails in a lawsuit, the next issue to consider is attorney’s fees, and this is oftentimes a driving issue because attorney’s fees can be fairly significant depending on the nature of the dispute. For example, assume you lost a trial and the other side moved for attorney’s fees. You challenged entitlement to attorney’s fees and lost – the trial court granted the other side’s motion for attorney’s fees. An evidentiary hearing was held and an attorney’s fees judgment was entered. Alternatively, assume you moved for attorney’s fees and the trial court denied your motion. Are these issues relating to entitlement to attorney’s fees appealable? Yes.

 

“‘A party’s entitlement to an award of attorney’s fees under a statute or procedural rule is a legal question subject to de novo review.’” Newman v. Guerra, 2017 WL 33702 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) quoting Nathanson v. Morelli, 169 So.3d 259, 260 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).

 

For instance, in a recent case, an owner established that a contractor’s lien was fraudulent. The contractor, however, prevailed in its breach of contract claim. The owner moved for his entitlement to statutory attorney’s fees since he prevailed in the contractor’s lien action. The trial court denied the owner’s motion for attorney’s fees because after considering all of the claims asserted in the case found that the contractor prevailed on the significant issues in the case. The owner appealed the trial court’s denial and this issue was subject to a de novo standard of appellate review.

 

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.

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Trial Court’s Responsibility is NOT to Rewrite a Contract

Posted by David Adelstein on November 25, 2016
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Many business disputes involve the interpretation and the application of a contract. This is because business transactions typically involve a contractual relationship governing the rights, liabilities, risks, and recourse relating to the transaction.   When there is a dispute regarding the transaction, this gives rise to a breach of contract claim.  

It is important to understand that a trial court’s responsibility is NOT to rewrite the terms of a contract so that the risks are allocated differently.  As explained:

[C]ourts are ‘powerless to rewrite [a] contract to make it more reasonable or advantageous to one of the parties…or to substitute [their] judgments for that of the parties to the contract in order to relieve one of the parties from the apparent hardships of an improvident bargain.  

Underwater Engineering Services, Inc. v. Utility Board of the City of Key West, 194 So.3d 437, 444 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016) quoting Fernandez v. Homestar at Miller Cove, Inc., 935 So.2d 547, 551 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006).

For this reason, a trial court’s interpretation of a contract is reviewed on appeal with a de novo standard of appellate review – the appellate court will refer to the record in the trial court anew (de novo) without giving deference to the trial court’s findings.

For example, in Underwater Engineering Services (a case I discussed here), the trial court found that a contractor defectively constructed a portion of its work and awarded damages to the owner for replacing the defective work. On appeal, however, the appellate court looked at the underlying contract between the owner and the contractor that required the owner to give the contractor notice before replacing defective work. (The trial court’s final judgment did not reference this contractual provision or provide any application of the provision). The trial court’s record established that such notice was never given to the contractor so the contractor was never in a position to replace the defective work. Based on this contractual provision–remember, courts are not there to rewrite parties’ contracts–the appellate court reversed the trial court’s findings / judgment in favor of the owner because the owner never provided the contractor the required notice per the unambiguous language in the contract.

 

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.

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What Constitutes an Enforceable Contract?

Posted by David Adelstein on November 17, 2016
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An enforceable or valid contract requires an offer, acceptance of that offer, consideration, and sufficient specification of material terms. Jericho All-Weather Opportunity Fund, LP v. Pier Seventeen Marina, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D2565a (Fla. 4th DCA 2016). Whether a contract actually constitutes an enforceable contract is subject to a de novo standard of appellate review; this is the same appellate standard of review pertaining to an appeal of a trial court’s interpretation of a contract. See id.

The case in Jericho All-Weather Opportunity Fund exemplifies a party suing on the wrong contract and, thus, an appellate court reversing a judgment in favor of a plaintiff and remanding for the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the defendants. As you can imagine, this is a harsh outcome in an appeal – winning a trial only for the appellate court to reverse and mandate judgment for the party that lost during the trial.

In this case, the plaintiff (borrower) was seeking a construction loan. It entered into a second loan commitment with the defendant (lender) whereby the defendant agreed to loan the plaintiff money for the refinancing of property and constructing the project. The court explained that a loan commitment is “a lender’s binding promise to a borrower to lend a specified amount of money at a certain interest rate, usually within a specified period and for a specific purpose (such as buying real estate).” Jericho All-Weather Opportunity Fund, supra, quoting Armstrong Bus. Servs., Inc. v. AmSouth Bank, 817 So.2d 665, 673-74 (Ala. 2001).

The plaintiff and defendant then entered into a construction loan. The loan agreement was contingent on the actual closing of the loan—the closing of the loan was the consideration for the loan agreement. The loan agreement did not require the defendant to fund the loan as the agreement was predicated on the funding having occurred. However, the loan never closed and the plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of the loan agreement. The plaintiff prevailed at trial. The defendant appealed arguing that the loan agreement was not an enforceable contract as it never became a valid contract because the funding never occurred. The appellate court agreed stating that the plaintiff should have sued for breach of the second loan commitment and not the loan agreement. (Notably, the plaintiff had strategic reasons for not suing on the second loan commitment since it precluded the plaintiff from pursuing certain damages based on a waiver of consequential damages provision.  Unfortunately, by not suing under the second loan commitment, the plaintiff did not sue on an enforceable contract.)

 

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.

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Moving to Enforce the Appellate Court’s Mandate

Posted by David Adelstein on September 16, 2016
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When an appellate opinion is issued (and after any post-opinion motions have been resolved or the timing to file same has expired), oftentimes the matter is remanded back to the trial court to implement the appellate court’s opinion or mandate.   This mandate is the “official mode of communicating the judgment of the appellate court to the lower court, directing the action to be taken or the disposition to be made of the cause by the trial court.” Tierney v. Tierney, 290 So.2d 136, 137 (Fla. 2d DCA 1974).  In other words, once that mandate is issued, the trial court is obligated to comply.

What happens if the trial court does not comply with the appellate court’s mandate in the appellate opinion?   A party can move to enforce the mandate in the appellate court.

In Florida Digestive Health Specialists, LLP v. Ramon E. Colina, M.D., LLC, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D2078a (Fla. 2d DCA 2016), the appellate court issued an opinion that remanded the matter back to the trial court to implement the mandate in the opinion.   In this matter, the mandate explained how the trial court was to implement a temporary injunction to enforce a restrictive covenant / non-compete agreement.   On remand, however, the trial court issued an order that did not fully comply with the appellate court’s mandate. This prompted a party to file a motion to enforce the mandate with the appellate court (as well as a notice of appeal of the trial court’s order that did not comply with the appellate mandate).

The appellate court granted the motion to enforce its mandate instructing the trial court to enter an order pursuant to its mandate:

This [appellate] court “is vested with all the power and authority necessary for carrying into complete execution all of its judgments, decrees, orders, and determinations in the matters before it.” § 35.08, Fla. Stat. (2015). “No principle of appellate jurisdiction is more firmly established than the one which provides that a trial court utterly lacks the power to deviate from the terms of an appellate mandate.” Mendelson v. Mendelson, 341 So. 2d 811, 813-14 (Fla. 2d DCA 1977). That is, “upon the issuance of our mandate, the trial court is without authority to take any action other than to compose an order carrying out the terms of the mandate.” City of Miami Beach v. Arthree, Inc., 300 So. 2d 65, 67 (Fla. 3d DCA 1973). The trial court must execute the mandate without variance or examination; it may not review the mandate — “even for apparent error” — or grant any additional or further relief. Rinker Materials Corp. v. Holloway Materials Corp., 175 So. 2d 564, 565 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965) (quoting In re Sanford Fork & Tool Co., 160 U.S. 247, 255 (1895)). Further, “any motion or petition to vary the judgment of this court may not be entertained without the express permission of this court to do so.Arthree, 300 So. 2d at 67.

Florida Digestive Health Specialists, 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.

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Appealing Trial Court’s Interpretation of Contract

Posted by David Adelstein on July 24, 2016
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Many disputes turn on the interpretation of a contract, contractual term, or written document. When the trial court rules on the interpretation, there will typically be a party that disagrees with the court’s interpretation. In these instances, this party will appeal the trial court’s interpretation. There is a value to appeal because the appellate standard of review is de novo meaning the appellate court will review the trial court’s record anew without giving deference to the trial court’s interpretation.

The interpretation of a written contract is a question of law and the appellate court construes the contract under a de novo standard of review. Notably, construction of contractual terms is a question of law, which we review de novo, provided that the language is clear and unambiguous and free of conflicting inferences.

Ciklin Lubetz Martens & O’Connell v. Patrick J. Casey, P.A., 41 Fla.L.Weekly D1678b (Fla. 4th DCA 2016 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

For example, in a dispute concerning a law firm’s partnership agreement as it pertains to the withdrawal of a partner, the trial court made an interpretation of the partnership agreement that resulted in certain amounts being awarded to the withdrawing partner. The law firm appealed the trial court’s interpretation and the appellate court, examining the partnership agreement under a de novo standard of appellate review, reversed certain interpretations by the trial court. This is because the appellate court was able to examine the partnership agreement anew without providing any deference to how the trial court interpreted the partnership 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.

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