Standard of Review

Sufficient Factual Detail to Support Four Prongs of Temporary Injunction

Posted by David Adelstein on August 20, 2018
Appeal, Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Sufficient Factual Detail to Support Four Prongs of Temporary Injunction

An order on a motion for temporary injunction entered by a trial court must be based on [1] the likelihood of irreparable harm, [2] the unavailability of an adequate remedy at law, [3] the substantial likelihood of success on the merits, and [4] considerations of public interest.”  XIP Technologies, LLC v. Ascend Global Services, LLC,  43 Fla.L.Weekly D1850a (Fla. 2d DCA 2018).  A trial court’s order granting a temporary injunction must contain clear factual detail to support each of these four prongsId.

A trial court has discretion to grant or deny a motion for temporary injunction.  Its discretion, however, is not absolute and will be reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard of appellate review.  It will be deemed an abuse of discretion if an injunction is issued where the moving party has an adequate remedy at law or there has not been strict compliance with the factual detail needed to support the injunction.

In XIP Technologies, LLC, a defendant provided software that allowed the plaintiff to accept credit card payments from its customers and tracked all customer information, transactions, and purchases.  Due to a dispute, the defendant stopped transferring credit card payments to the plaintiff, stopped providing the plaintiff the tracked customer data, and stopped accepting credit card payments from the plaintiff’s customers.  The plaintiff stopped paying the defendant the required monthly fee for the software.  The plaintiff sued the defendant and moved for a temporary injunction that, among other things, required the defendant to pay the plaintiff the withheld credit card payment amounts, provide the plaintiff the tracked customer data, and continue to accept credit card payments from the plaintiff’s customers. The trial court granted the injunction.

On appeal, the defendant argued that it was wrong to order it to pay the plaintiff the withheld credit card payments because that payment constitutes an adequate remedy at law and injunctive relief is only when a party does NOT have an adequate remedy at law.  The appellate court agreed:  “If indeed XIP [defendant] is determined to be in breach of the parties’ contract, Ascend [plaintiff] will have an adequate remedy at law in the form of damages to replace the withheld revenue.  Because damages are available, there is no irreparable harm.” XIP Technologies, LLC, supra

The appellate court, on the other hand, found that injunctive relief could be appropriate relating to the customer data and refusal of the defendant to continue to process credit card payments of the plaintiff’s customers.   However, the trial court’s order was insufficient in that it did NOT contain sufficient factual detail supporting all of the four prongs to justify the issuance of a temporary injunction.  In particular, the trial court’s order did not include factual detail regarding requirements 3 (the substantial likelihood of success on the merits) and 4 (considerations of public interest).  For this reason, as to these issues, the appellate court remanded back to the trial court to enter a temporary injunction as to these issues “but only if it includes the required findings as to each of the necessary four prongs.”  XIP Technologies, LLC, 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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General Understanding of Collateral Estoppel and Res Judicata

Posted by David Adelstein on May 28, 2018
Appeal, Standard of Review, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on General Understanding of Collateral Estoppel and Res Judicata

There are two similarly related legal doctrines known as collateral estoppel and res judicata.   The doctrines are designed to prevent a party from re-litigating either a prior issue (collateral estoppel) or claim (res judicata).  These doctrines are generally discussed below regarding the elements (in the case of collateral estoppel) or the identities (in the case of res judicata) required to support their application.   Keep in mind that these are nuanced legal doctrines and a party should consult with counsel to determine the application of these doctrines which are typically raised as an affirmative defense in a lawsuit.

 

Collateral Estoppel = Issue Preclusion

 

The doctrine of collateral estoppel is also generally known as issue preclusion. 

Collateral estoppel applies when the following five elements are satisfied: “(1) the identical issues were presented in a prior proceeding; (2) there was a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues in the prior proceeding; (3) the issues in the prior litigation were a critical and necessary part of the prior determination; (4) the parties in the two proceedings were identical; and (5) the issues were actually litigated in the prior proceeding.”  Pearce v. Sandler, 219 So.3d 961, 965 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) quoting Topps v. State, 865 So.2d 1253, 1255 (Fla. 2004).  

When these elements are satisfied, “[c]ollateral estoppel precludes re-litigating an issue where the same issue has been fully litigated by the parties or their privies, and a final decision has been rendered by a court.”  Id. quoting Mtge. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc. v. Badra, 991 So.2d 1037, 1039 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).   The underlined phraseology “or their privies” refers to one who is in privity with a party to a lawsuit.  “To be in privity with one who is a party to a lawsuit, or for one to have been virtually represented by one who is a party to a lawsuit, one must have an interest in the action such that she will be bound by the final judgment as if she were a party.”  Pearce, 219 So.3d at 965.

A trial court’s ruling regarding the application of collateral estoppel is reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.   PNC Bank, Nat. Ass’n v. Inlet Village Condominium Ass’n, Inc., 204 So.3d 97 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).

 

Res Judicata = Claim Preclusion

 

The doctrine of res judicata is also generally known as claim preclusion.

Res judicata applies when the following four identities are satisfied: “(1) identity of the thing sued for; (2) identity of the cause of action; (3) identity of persons and parties to the action; and (4) identity of the quality of the persons for or against whom the claim is made.”  Professional Roofing and Sales, Inc. v. Flemmings, 138 So.3d 524, 527 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014) quoting Topps v. State, 865 So.2d 1253, 1255 (Fla. 2004).

An identity of the cause of action refers to “whether the facts or evidence necessary to maintain the suit are the same in both actions.”  Tyson v. Viacom, Inc., 890 So.2d 1205, 1209 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) quoting Albrecht v. State, 444 So.2d 8, 12 (Fla. 1984).   

Another way to consider res judicata has been stated as follows: “A judgment on the merits rendered in a former suit between the same parties or their privies, upon the same cause of action, by a court of competent jurisdiction, is conclusive not only as to every matter which was offered and received to sustain or defeat the claim, but as to every other matter which might with propriety have been litigated determined in that action.”  Tyson, 890 So.2d at 1209 quoting Huff Groves Trust v. Caulkins Indiantown Citrus Co., 810 So.2d 1049, 1050 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002). 

A trial court’s ruling regarding the application of res judicata is also reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.  Philadelphia Financial Management of San Francisco, LLC v. DJSP Enterprises, Inc., 227 So.3d 612 (Fla. 4th DCA 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.

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A New Trial is Not Automatically Warranted when Jury Renders what a Plaintiff Perceives to be an Inadequate Jury Verdict

Posted by David Adelstein on April 29, 2018
Appeal, Standard of Review / Comments Off on A New Trial is Not Automatically Warranted when Jury Renders what a Plaintiff Perceives to be an Inadequate Jury Verdict

Juries do not always award huge jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs in personal injury actions.  Sure, sometimes they definitely do.  But it is also true that sometimes they do not.  Juries can find that the (i) defendant was not liable, (ii) the plaintiff was comparatively liable, or (iii) that the plaintiff’s damages were relatively minor.  As to the latter two points, this was the issue in Black v. Cohen, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D903e (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), involving an automobile accident, where the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion for a new trial based on an inadequate jury verdict

In this case, there was a relatively minor rear end automobile collision in 2007 causing $1,600 in damages to plaintiff’s bumper.   Thereafter, plaintiff was having right-sided neck pain and a cervical fusion was recommended and ultimately performed in 2011.  Plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon opined that the car accident caused her disc herniation that led to her surgery.  Plaintiff’s medical bills totaled $240,000.  During trial, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award the $240,000 in past medical expenses, $40,000 for future medical visits, a minimum of $700,000 for past pain and suffering, and a minimum of $200,000 for future pain and suffering.

The defense argued with expert testimony that plaintiff’s x-rays taken right after the accident were normal showing only arthritic or degenerative changes, and that plaintiff’s injuries were not permanent.  The cervical fusion performed in 2011 was not attributed to the 2007 car accident.

The jury found that both plaintiff and defendant were equally liable for the accident, plaintiff’s injuries were not permanent, and awarded plaintiff only $18,506 in past medical bills.  Nothing was awarded to plaintiff for pain and suffering.

Plaintiff moved for a new trial regarding the inadequate jury verdict.  One argument raised was that during the trial the defendant took the stand to testify that he was a medical student and further doing research on cancer to receive a PhD.  Plaintiff claimed this was elicited simply to prejudicially influence the jury in favor of the defense; the defense countered that this was permissible evidence to humanize the defendant so that a jury can assess his credibility.  The court agreed with plaintiff’s motion and ordered a new trial as the result of the inadequate jury award.  The defense appealed the trial court’s order granting a new trial.

Regarding the standard of appellate standard of review regarding this issue of an inadequate jury award, the appellate court quoted:

When reviewing the order granting a new trial, an appellate court must recognize the broad discretionary authority of the trial judge and apply the reasonableness test to determine whether the trial judge committed an abuse of discretion. If an appellate court determines that reasonable persons could differ as to the propriety of the action taken by the trial court, there can be no finding of an abuse of discretion. The fact that there may be substantial, competent evidence in the record to support the jury verdict does not necessarily demonstrate that the trial judge abused his or her discretion.

. . . .

Regarding inadequate or excessive verdicts, this ground is a corollary of the ground asserting that the verdict is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. A new trial may be ordered on the grounds that the verdict is excessive or inadequate when (1) the verdict shocks the judicial conscience or (2) the jury has been unduly influenced by passion or prejudice. . . . Regardless of whether a new trial was ordered because the verdict was excessive or inadequate or was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, the appellate court must employ the reasonableness test to determine whether the trial judge abused his or her discretion.

Black, supra, quoting Brown v. Estate of Stuckey, 749 So.2d 490, 497-98 (Fla. 1999).

Based on this standard of review, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order granting a new trial and remanded the case back to the trial court to enter final judgment consistent with the jury’s (nominal) verdict:

Even if we consider the ruling as being within the “broad discretion” afforded to trial courts in ruling on motions for new trial, we would still conclude that the court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial based upon the comments about Black’s [defendant’s] cancer research. We simply cannot conclude that mention of Black’s cancer research was so prejudicial that the jury was misled and misperceived the weight of the evidence because of it and decided the case upon the fact that the defendant did cancer research. No reasonable person would conclude that the verdict was fatally tainted by this single remark.

We are not bound by any findings and credibility determinations, because the trial court made none. The court did not explain or analyze why the verdict was “grossly inadequate.” The trial court made no analysis of the testimony of the witnesses. Implicit in its finding of gross inadequacy must be a finding that no evidence supported the jury’s finding of no permanency; however, without an analysis of the evidence in the case and how the trial court would have come to that conclusion, the trial court’s decision cannot be sustained. On the record before us, the issue of liability and permanency were hotly contested, and the court has shed no light as to why the defense’s evidence supporting its case should be rejected. Therefore, we conclude that the court abused its broad discretion in ordering a new trial.

Black, supra.

As this case demonstrates, a new trial will not automatically be warranted just because the jury rendered what a plaintiff perceives to be an inadequate jury verdict.

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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Directed Verdict Warranted if Jury Needs to Stack Inferences to Determine Negligence

Posted by David Adelstein on April 08, 2018
Burden of Proof, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Directed Verdict Warranted if Jury Needs to Stack Inferences to Determine Negligence

If you have read prior articles, you know what a motion for directed verdict is and that it is routinely moved for in jury trials, as it should be.  It is also not a motion commonly granted.  But, this does not mean there are no appellate rights if a court denies a motion for directed verdict.  A denial of a trial court’s motion for directed verdict is reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.

An example can be found in the slip-and-fall case, Publix Supermarkets v. Bellaiche, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D673a (Fla. 3d DCA 2018), where an appellate court reversed a trial court’s denial of a motion for directed verdict and remanded the case back to the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the defendant.  A devastating appellate outcome for a plaintiff that was victorious in the underlying jury trial.

In this case, an older couple was shopping at Publix and the wife slipped on water on the ground.  The husband did not witness the incident.  Both the husband and wife did testify that they saw an employee with a mop in his hand after the fall, but neither could testify the mop was wet or that the employee was using the mop.   However, video evidence revealed that the presumed employee only had been using a broom and dustpan. And, the store manager testified that Publix did not use pre-soaked cotton mops but used dry rayon mops for its floors.

The jury nevertheless returned a verdict for the wife for over $1.5 million in damages. 

On appeal, Publix claimed, among other things, that the trial court erred by not granting its motion for directed verdict.  The appellate court agreed.  The evidence at trial did not demonstrate that Publix had any actual knowledge of the water on the floor prompting the dangerous condition that the wife slipped on.   The evidence also did not demonstrate that Publix’s own employee caused the condition.  This was important evidence because the plaintiff was required to prove (remember, the plaintiff had the burden of proof) “that Publix had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition created by a transient foreign substance that caused Bellaiche [plaintiff] to slip and fall.”  Publix Supermarkets, supra.   The plaintiff argued that Publix had actual knowledge because she and her husband both saw a man with a mop and he caused the water to be on the floor.   But, she only saw the man with the alleged mop after she fell.  “A jury may not stack inferences to determine that a party had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, nor is the mere possibility of causation sufficient to establish liability. If the only way a jury can find that a party was negligent is by stacking inferences, ‘then a directed verdict is warranted.’”  Publix Supermarkets, supra, (internal citations 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.

 

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Moving for an Involuntary Dismissal in a Nonjury Bench Trial

Posted by David Adelstein on March 11, 2018
Appeal, Burden of Proof, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Moving for an Involuntary Dismissal in a Nonjury Bench Trial

Analogous to a motion for directed verdict in a jury trial, in a nonjury bench trial decided by a judge, a defendant can move for an involuntary dismissal after the plaintiff (party introducing evidence in favor of affirmative relief) puts on his/her case.  This is a common motion after the plaintiff in a bench trial puts on his/her case.  No different than moving for a directed verdict in a jury trial, it is a motion that carries a high burden since every doubt and inference is given in favor of the plaintiff.  

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.420(b) authorizes motions for involuntary dismissal as indicated by the emphasized language below:

Involuntary Dismissal. Any party may move for dismissal of an action or of any claim against that party for failure of an adverse party to comply with these rules or any order of court. Notice of hearing on the motion shall be served as required under rule 1.090(d). After a party seeking affirmative relief in an action tried by the court without a jury has completed the presentation of evidence, any other party may move for a dismissal on the ground that on the facts and the law the party seeking affirmative relief has shown no right to relief, without waiving the right to offer evidence if the motion is not granted. The court as trier of the facts may then determine them and render judgment against the party seeking affirmative relief or may decline to render judgment until the close of all the evidence. Unless the court in its order for dismissal otherwise specifies, a dismissal under this subdivision and any dismissal not provided for in this rule, other than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction or for improper venue or for lack of an indispensable party, operates as an adjudication on the merits.

In a bench trial, motions for involuntary dismissal are appropriate if the plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case, i.e., the plaintiff fails to introduce evidence that establish the elements of his/her claim(s) against the defendant.  Boca Golf View, Ltd. v. Hughes Hall, Inc., 843 So.2d 992, 993 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).  “To rule on the motion for involuntary dismissal, the trial court was required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, resolving every conflict and inference in its favor.”  Id.   See also Nationstar Mortgage, LLC v. Silva, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D548a (Fla. 3d DCA 2018) (“A motion for involuntary dismissal should only be granted ‘when there is no reasonable evidence upon which a [fact finder] could legally predicate a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.’” (quoting Tylinski v. Klein Auto., Inc., 90 So.3d 870, 873 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012)).

In ruling on a motion for involuntary dismissal, the trial court is NOT supposed to rule on the credibility of a testifying witness.  Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co. v. Kummer, 195 So.3d 1173, 1175 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016).  This is because when:

[T]he movant [party moving for involuntary dismissal] admits the truth of all facts in evidence an every reasonable conclusion or inference based thereon favorable to the non-moving party [e.g., plaintiff].  Where the plaintiff has presented a prima facia case and different conclusions or inferences can be drawn from the evidence, the trial judge should not grant a motion for involuntary dismissal.

Id. quoting Day v. Amini, 550 So.2d 169, 171 (Fla. 2d DCA 1989).

Importantly for appellate purposes, if a plaintiff is appealing a trial court’s granting of a motion for involuntary dismissal in a bench trial, it is reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.  Green Tree Servicing LLC v. Sanker, 204 So.3d 496, 497 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).

 

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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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.

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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.

 

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Writ of Certiorari to Remedy Pre-Trial Discovery Order

Posted by David Adelstein on August 12, 2017
Discovery, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Writ of Certiorari to Remedy Pre-Trial Discovery Order

Sometimes, a trial court issues a pre-trial order on a discovery issue that a party claims causes it irreparable harm.   In this situation, the only basis to appeal the pre-trial discovery order is through a petition for writ of certiorari, as recently explained by the Second District Court of Appeal:

A party seeking review of a pretrial discovery order must show that the trial court’s order departed from the essential requirements of law and caused material injury to the petitioner throughout the remainder of the proceedings below, effectively leaving no adequate remedy on appeal.  Generally, certiorari is not available to review orders denying discovery because in most cases the harm can be corrected on appeal. But certiorari relief may be appropriate when the requested discovery is relevant or is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and the order denying that discovery effectively eviscerates a party’s claim, defense, or counterclaim.  The harm in such cases is not remediable on appeal because there is no practical way to determine after judgment how the requested discovery would have affected the outcome of the proceedings.

Westerbeke Corp. v. Atherton, 42 Fla.L.Weekly D1741c (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

In this recent opinion (discussed in more detail here), the trial court in a product liability case denied a defendant’s right to perform destructive testing of a boat’s gas generator that caused an explosion. The defendant claimed the destructive testing was necessary to determine the cause of the explosion and prepare a defense. In other words, the harm imposed on the defendant could not be corrected on a final appeal since the harm prevented it from generating a sufficient defense. Here, the Second District granted the writ of certiorari because the trial court applied the wrong legal standard in denying the defendant’s request to perform destructive testing. The take-away is the Second District’s explanation as to when certiorari relief is appropriate to remedy a pre-trial discovery 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.

Insurance Policy Construction is a Question of Law

Posted by David Adelstein on July 15, 2017
Appeal, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Insurance Policy Construction is a Question of Law

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. Slowly, software for insurance agencies is being developed to make the customer interface, and policy information much more simple.  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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Denial of Right to Depose Material Witness

Posted by David Adelstein on April 23, 2017
Depositions, Standard of Review / Comments Off on Denial of Right to Depose Material Witness

Depositions are an integral part of a dispute’s “truth seeking” discovery process. This is where parties can depose a witness under oath and explore key factual issues and parties’ positions, both from a liability and damages perspective.   Certain depositions can be introduced for purposes of substantive evidence at trial.   Other depositions can be used for purposes of impeachment in case a witness changes his/her position or story at trial. The significance of a deposition of a material witness in a civil case cannot be understated.

 

If an opposing party wants to limit or prevent a deposition from moving forward, that party will file a motion for protective order based on its good cause reasoning to restrict that deposition. The burden is on that party to support its good cause reasoning. If the court grants the motion for protective order, an appellate issue arises. “When a party has been denied the right to depose an alleged material witness without finding of good cause to preclude the deposition, the trial court departs from the essential requirements of law.”   Akhnoukh v. Benvenuto, 42 Fla.L.Weekly D882 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017). This gives the denied party the right to move for a writ of certiorari: “Certiorari jurisdiction generally exists to review the denial of a motion to compel the deposition of a material witness.” Id. (further explaining that a witness can be material even if relevant information can be obtained from a party).

 

For instance, in Akhnoukh, the plaintiffs obtained a protective order that prevented defendants from deposing plaintiff’s minor son (who was not a party). The son was the only passenger in the car at the time of the accident; he was eight year’s old at the time of the car accident and eleven year’s old at the time of the protective order. The defendants wanted to take the minor’s accident since he was sitting in the front passenger seat and an eyewitness to the accident and could shed value on the moments before the accident, the impact of the accident, whether the mother was wearing a seat belt, and the mother’s activities after the accident. Nonetheless, the trial court granted the protective order. The appellate court, however, quashed the motion for protective order:

 

The trial court did not require Benvenuto [plaintiff] to establish good cause for the protective order. She based her argument on her [minor] son’s age, lack of maturity, and experience but provided no evidence. She also did not provide any evidence of how the taking of the deposition may be detrimental to her son. The trial court made no findings of good cause and departed from the essential requirements of law in prohibiting the deposition.  Thus, we grant the petition and quash the trial court’s order granting the motion for protective order. The trial court in its discretion may take protective measures if necessary for the minor’s well-being, such as requiring that the deposition take place before the court or a magistrate.

Akhnoukh, 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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