affirmative defense

Properly Pleading the Affirmative Defense of the Nonperformance or Nonoccurrence of Conditions Precedent

Posted by David Adelstein on July 22, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Properly Pleading the Affirmative Defense of the Nonperformance or Nonoccurrence of Conditions Precedent

The nonperformance of conditions precedent must be pled with particularity. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.120(c) provides:

Conditions Precedent. In pleading the performance or occurrence of conditions precedent, it is sufficient to aver generally that all conditions precedent have been performed or occurred. A denial of performance or occurrence shall be made specifically and with particularity.

It is common for a plaintiff to generally plead in its complaint, “All conditions precedent have been performed or have occurred.”   A defendant may want to assert an affirmative defense attacking or denying this allegation relating to the plaintiff’s failure to satisfy certain conditions precedent.   In doing so, a defendant must identify the nonperformance or nonoccurrence of conditions precedent with specificity. Any generality in this regard could end up hurting the defendant, especially if the defendant has a legitimate defense based on the plaintiff failing to comply with conditions precedent.  Hence, make sure to consider applicable conditions precedent and identify those with particularity that deny the plaintiff’s allegation that all conditions precedent have been performed or have occurred.

In a construction dispute, a contractor argued that the subcontractor failed to comply with conditions precedent. However, the contractor’s affirmative defense was general in nature – no particularity.   This may have been a legitimate defense supported by facts since the contractor argued the subcontractor’s failure to comply with conditions precedent to payment meant that the contractor was not obligated to pay the subcontractor. But, based on the generality of the contractor’s affirmative defense, the appellate court held that the contractor failed to property preserve the defense in its affirmative defenses:

In its amended answer, DFI [contractor] asserted, as an affirmative defense, that HRI [subcontractor] “has failed to allege, nor can it establish that it had meet [sic] each and every condition precedent to recovering payment in this cause pursuant to its Complaint.” Contrary to the requirements in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.120(c), DFI did not specify which conditions precedents HRI did not comply with or how HRI failed to comply with them. Consequently, DFI’s answer to the complaint failed to preserve its right to demand proof that HRI complied with the conditions precedent to progress payments and final payment. See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.120(c); Deutsche Bank Nat’l Tr. Co. v. Quinion, 198 So. 3d 701, 703-04 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) (“[T]o construct a proper denial under the rule, a defendant must, at a minimum, identify both the nature of the condition precedent and the nature of the alleged noncompliance or nonoccurrence.”); Bank of Am., Nat’l Ass’n v. Asbury, 165 So. 3d 808, 810-11 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015); Cooke v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 652 So. 2d 1154, 1156 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995); Paulk v. Peyton, 648 So. 2d 772, 774 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).

 

 

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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Do I or Do I Not File a Reply to Affirmative Defenses?

Posted by David Adelstein on January 13, 2017
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Do I or Do I Not File a Reply to Affirmative Defenses?

I’ll be the first to tell you that I seldom file a reply to affirmative defenses unless I am truly looking to avoid an affirmative defense – I have a defense to the defense. When I do file a reply, it is typically specific and catered to a specific defense (again, a specific defense to a specific affirmative defense). This is an important consideration and not filing a reply and specifically avoiding a defense (when you have a defense to the defense) can be problematic as an insured recently found out in an insurance coverage dispute.  Thus, if you have an avoidance to a specific affirmative defense, raise it in a reply!

The insured filed an insurance coverage dispute and the insurer relied on an exclusion in the policy. The insured, however, never filed a reply to the affirmative defense. When the insurer moved for summary judgment on the exclusion, the insured tried to argue waiver, that the insurer’s conduct waived its right to this affirmative defense. Well, this is an avoidance of the defense (a defense to a defense) and should have been raised in a reply. But, it was not. The trial court granted the summary judgment in favor of the insurer and on an appeal the appellate court agreed – the insured failed to preserve its waiver argument because it never raised its waiver defense to the insurer’s affirmative defense through a reply:

We reject Gamero’s [insured’s] argument that Foremost [insurer] waived its right to rely upon the marring exclusion [in the insurance policy] by its pre-suit conduct in initially acknowledging coverage and paying a portion of the claim. Moreover, even if such actions by Foremost amounted to a waiver, Gamero failed to preserve the issue below. After Gamero filed suit for breach of the insurance contract, Foremost answered and asserted, as an affirmative defense, that Gamero’s claim was excluded from coverage because the loss constituted marring. Gamero, however, failed to reply to, or avoid, this affirmative defense by alleging, as he does in this appeal, that the affirmative defense was waived by Foremost’s conduct in initially acknowledging coverage and paying a portion of the claim. Instead, Gamero raised this issue, for the first time, in opposition to Foremost’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court was correct in not considering this issue, raised for the first time in opposition to Foremost’s motion for summary judgment.

Gamero v. Foremost Ins. Co., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D158b (Fla. 3d 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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Illegality of Contract as Affirmative Defense

Posted by David Adelstein on July 16, 2016
Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on Illegality of Contract as Affirmative Defense

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There is an affirmative defense known as “illegality of contract.”   Under this defense, the defendant is claiming that performance under its contract became illegal to perform; thus, the defendant should be excused from further performance. Just like any affirmative defense, the burden is on the defendant to prove the illegality of contract. See Novak v. Gray, 469 Fed. Appx. 811, 813-14 (11th Cir. 2012) (defendant has burden of proving defense of illegality of contract).

An example of the application of this defense can be found in the dispute between a commercial landlord and its tenant in Lucas Games, Inc. v. Morris Associates, LLC, 2016 WL 3745372 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016). The facts of this case are discussed here, but the case concerned an issue where the tenant’s business became illegal to perform due to an amendment to Florida law. As a result, the tenant stopped conducting business and vacated the leased premises. The appellate court agreed with the tenant because the subject matter of the lease became illegal to perform such that the lease could not be enforced against the tenant (and excused the tenant’s performance under the lease.)

When asserting an affirmative defense at trial, remember, whether the defense is illegality of contract or another defense, the burden is on the defendant (party asserting defense) to prove it.  

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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The Nonparty Fabre Defendant

Posted by David Adelstein on February 20, 2016
Burden of Proof, Trial Perspectives / Comments Off on The Nonparty Fabre Defendant

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I want to discuss the concept of a “Fabre defendant.” This is an important concept in negligence cases, particularly personal injury and property damage cases.

A ‘Fabre defendant’ is a nonparty defendant whom a party defendant asserts is wholly of partially responsible for the negligence alleged [by the plaintiff].Salazar v. Helicopter Structural & Maintenance, Inc., 986 So.2d 620, n.1 (Fla.2d DCA 2007).

As further explained in Florida Statute s. 768.81(3):

(3) Apportionment of damages.–In a negligence action, the court shall enter judgment against each party liable on the basis of such party’s percentage of fault and not on the basis of the doctrine of joint and several liability.

(a) 1. In order to allocate any or all fault to a nonparty, a defendant must affirmatively plead the fault of a nonparty and, absent a showing of good cause, identify the nonparty, if known, or describe the nonparty as specifically as practicable, either by motion or in the initial responsive pleading when defenses are first presented, subject to amendment any time before trial in accordance with the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

2. In order to allocate any or all fault to a nonparty and include the named or unnamed nonparty on the verdict form for purposes of apportioning damages, a defendant must prove at trial, by a preponderance of the evidence, the fault of the nonparty in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

This means in order to allocate fault to a Fabre defendant (a nonparty) the named defendant must a) plead the fault of the nonparty and identify the nonparty in an affirmative defense, and, importantly b) prove at trial by a preponderance of evidence the fault of the nonparty (the Fabre defendant) causing plaintiff’s injuries in order to get that nonparty on the verdict form for purposes of having the jury allocate damages to the nonparty.  

Simply identifying the nonparty in an affirmative defense is not good enough. The burden of proof is on the named defendant to prove the nonparty’s negligence at trial to get that nonparty on the verdict form as a Fabre defendant. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Grossman, 96 So.3d 917, 919-20 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (nonparty Fabre defendant may not be included on verdict form until defendant proves nonparty’s negligence at trial) . However, a named defendant cannot rely on the vicarious liability of a nonparty to prove that nonparty’s fault in order to get that nonparty identified on the verdict form. See Nash v. Wells Fargo Guard Services, Inc., 678 So.2d 1262, 1263 (Fla. 1996) (security company could not name hospital that hired it as Fabre defendant since hospital would only be vicariously liable based on the negligence of the security company).

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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How the Defense of Set-Off Applies

Posted by David Adelstein on December 25, 2015
Evidence / Comments Off on How the Defense of Set-Off Applies

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Set-off is a popular topic or defense raised in civil disputes.

In contract actions, set-off must be raised as an affirmative defense and proven at trial (and determined by the trier of fact) or else the defendant waives the right to assert set-off. See Felgenhauer v. Bonds, 891 So.2d 1043, 1045 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004).

What about tort actions such as negligence actions in disputes involving personal injury or property damage? For instance, say a plaintiff sues three defendants in negligence for the same damage. Prior to trial, the plaintiff settled with two of the defendants for a total of $100,000 and gave the defendants releases. The remaining defendant proceeds to trial but a) thinks its liability is no more than $100,000 and b) wants to reap the benefit of the $100,000 already obtained by the plaintiff from the other two defendants. In tort actions, set-off is not an affirmative defense to be determined by the trier of fact “but is a determination regarding damages to be made by the court after the [jury] verdict is rendered [in a jury trial].” Felgenhauer, 891 So.2d at 1045.

On this point, Florida Statutes s. 46.015 and 768.041 similarly state:

 

s. 46.015

(1) A written covenant not to sue or release of a person who is or may be jointly and severally liable with other persons for a claim shall not release or discharge the liability of any other person who may be liable for the balance of such claim.

(2) At trial, if any person shows the court that the plaintiff, or his or her legal representative, has delivered a written release or covenant not to sue to any person in partial satisfaction of the damages sued for, the court shall set off this amount from the amount of any judgment to which the plaintiff would be otherwise entitled at the time of rendering judgment.

(3) The fact that a written release or covenant not to sue exists or the fact that any person has been dismissed because of such release or covenant not to sue shall not be made known to the jury.

 

s. 768.041

(1) A release or covenant not to sue as to one tortfeasor for property damage to, personal injury of, or the wrongful death of any person shall not operate to release or discharge the liability of any other tortfeasor who may be liable for the same tort or death.

(2) At trial, if any defendant shows the court that the plaintiff, or any person lawfully on her or his behalf, has delivered a release or covenant not to sue to any person, firm, or corporation in partial satisfaction of the damages sued for, the court shall set off this amount from the amount of any judgment to which the plaintiff would be otherwise entitled at the time of rendering judgment and enter judgment accordingly.

(3) The fact of such a release or covenant not to sue, or that any defendant has been dismissed by order of the court shall not be made known to the jury.

 

Typically, these set-off statutes apply when the plaintiff received money from a defendant / tortfeasor who was vicariously liable for the other defendant’s acts. Felgenhauer, 891 So.2d at 1045-46.   (The vicariously liable party is responsible to the plaintiff to the same extent as the primary [defendant] actor; both are jointly liable for all of the harm that the primary actor has caused. See Grobman v. Posey, 863 So.2d 1230 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003)). Stated differently, “[s]ettlement proceeds must be set off against the jury verdict where defendants [the settling defendant and non-settling defendant] are liable for the same injury.” Yellow Cab Co. of St. Petersburg, Inc. v. Betsey, 696 So.2d 769, 772 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996).

The objective is to prevent the plaintiff from obtaining a windfall by obtaining overlapping compensation for the same damages. Cornerstone SMR, Inc. v. Bank of America, N.A., 163 So.3d 565, 569 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015). But, where there are separate and distinct claims involving different elements of damages, set-off is inappropriate. Gordon v. Marvin M. Rosenberg, D.D.S., P.A., 654 So.2d 643, 645 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995). For this reason, when settling with one defendant in a dispute under different theories of liability /claims involving different elements of damages, it is important to allocate the settlement amount in the release agreement between the claims. “Where a settlement is undifferentiated and general [and not allocated amongst the claims], the aggregate of the amount of the settlement should be set off against the judgment [to prevent the appearance of double recovery for the same damages].” Cornerstone SMR, 163 So.2d at 569.

Let’s break this down as applied to the above hypothetical. First, releasing the two defendants prior to trial does not operate as a release of the remaining defendant. Second, the court shall set-off any amount the plaintiff received from the other two defendants in the judgment the plaintiff receives since it involves the same damage, meaning the set-off would reduce the jury verdict and would be embodied in the final judgment. And, third, the fact that the other two defendants were released and then dismissed from the action in consideration of $100,000 prior to trial shall not be disclosed to the jury because this does not need to be proven at trial by the remaining defendant or impact any rulings at trial.  

On the other hand, if there was an argument that there were separate theories of liability / claims against the other two defendants and potentially different elements of damages, the plaintiff would want to allocate the settlement consideration in the release agreement to these separate theories of liability / claims to create the argument that set-off is not appropriate. (See also this article for an example regarding the application of set-off in a multiparty construction dispute.) 

 

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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Proving Affirmative Defenses and the Affirmative Defense of Comparative Negligence

Posted by David Adelstein on April 01, 2015
Burden of Proof, Jury Instructions / Comments Off on Proving Affirmative Defenses and the Affirmative Defense of Comparative Negligence

 

When a defendant is sued, the defendant will typically assert affirmative defenses (or defenses to the claims asserted by the plaintiff).  Just like a plaintiff has the burden of proof to prove its claims against a defendant, the defendant has the burden of proof to prove its affirmative defenses.

The recent opinion in Bongiorno v. Americorp., 40 Fla L. Weekly D760c (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) exemplifies that a defendant that asserts an affirmative defense has the burden of proving that defense.   This case was a personal injury negligence case. The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to her negligence, i.e., the affirmative defense of comparative negligence.   The reason the defendant argued this is to reduce its damages exposure.

For instance, let’s assume the jury found that the plaintiff’s damages were $100,000 but that the plaintiff was 50% responsible for her damages. This would have the effect of the court reducing the plaintiff’s damages by 50% or, in this hypothetical, $50,000, in the judgment.

Florida’s standard jury instruction dealing with comparative negligence provides:

501.4 COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE, NON-PARTY FAULT AND MULTIPLE DEFENDANTS

In determining the total amount of damages, you should not make any reduction because of the negligence, if any, of (claimant). The court will enter a judgment based on your verdict and, if you find that (claimant) was negligent in any degree, the court in entering judgment will reduce the total amount of damages by the percentage of negligence which you find was caused by (claimant).

[The court will also take into account, in entering judgment against any defendant whom you find to have been negligent, the percentage of that defendant’s negligence compared to the total negligence of all the parties to this action.]*

*Use the bracketed paragraph above only when there is more than one defendant; the reference to “responsibility” in this additional instruction is designed for use in strict liability cases.

However, the point is that even if you wanted to assert comparative negligence as an affirmative defense, the burden would be upon you (the defendant) to prove this defense. The Court in Bongiorno explained:

Comparative negligence is an affirmative defense; thus, the party asserting the defense bears the burden of proving that the negligence of the other party was a cause of the accident.

***

The four elements necessary to prove a negligence claim [and, thus, a comparative negligence defense] include: (1) a duty to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of the duty; (3) proximate cause; and (4) damages.

Bongiorno, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Notably, in Florida, when it comes to negligence claims, a defendant can only be liable for his/her/its pro rata percentage of fault. See Fla. Stat. 768.81(3) (“In a negligence action [or an action based on a theory of negligence], the court shall enter judgment against each party liable on the basis of such party’s percentage of fault and not on the basis of the doctrine of joint and several liability.”). This means that joint and several liability no longer applies in negligence actions; this is why a defendant’s allocated percentage of fault, especially when there are multiple defendants, becomes important. With the affirmative defense of comparative negligence, as mentioned above, the defendant’s pro rata percentage of fault may be reduced based on the pro rata percentage of fault caused by the plaintiff that contributed to the plaintiff’s 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.

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