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The Bench Trial and Competent Substantial Evidence

In another posting, I discussed the doctrine referred to as the anticipatory repudiation of a contract.  The anticipatory repudiation of a contract amounts to a breach of the contract as a party is prospectively repudiating their obligations in the contract. However, for purposes this article, that same case explains the difficulty in overturning a judgment from a non-jury (or bench) trial.   This is because of the competent substantial evidence burden where a trial court will be affirmed if there is competent substantial evidence. If you are appealing a judgment from a bench trial, you are dealing with a harder standard or...

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Demonstrating the Difficult Burden in PIERCING the Corporate Veil

Trying to pierce the corporate veil to go after principals/owners/members is extremely difficult.  Although parties make a run at such arguments, this by no means diminishes the difficulty of actually prevailing on the arguments. In order to pierce the corporate a veil, a party has to prove three elements: (1) the person dominated and controlled the company to such an extent that the company had no existence independence of the person, and the company was the mere instrumentality or alter-ego of the person; (2) the person used the company’s corporate form fraudulently or for an improper purpose; and (3) the person’s fraudulent or improper...

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Vicarious Liability and the Going and Coming Rule

When is an employer vicariously liable to a third-party for the conduct of its employees? “In Florida, an employer is vicariously liable for an employee's tortious conduct where the conduct occurs within the scope of the employment.”  An employee's “[c]onduct is within the scope of employment if it occurs substantially within authorized time and space limits, and it is activated at least in part by a purpose to serve the master.”  Indoneisia Peterson v. Cisco Systems, Inc., 46 Fla.L.Weekly D1248a (Fla. 2d DCA 2021) (internal citations omitted). Is an employer liable for conduct of its employees driving to and from work?  The answer...

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Accurate Jury Instructions are Important

Accurate jury instructions that are read to a jury are important.  This is because accurate jury instructions help a jury properly resolve issues important to the case. “A decision to give or withhold a jury instruction is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.”  Vainberg v. Avatar Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 46 Fla. L.Weekly D1141d (Fla. 4th DCA 2021). In Vainberg, the trial judge refused to give a jury instruction requested by the plaintiff.  The case involved a property insurance dispute where the insurer, pursuant to the terms of the property insurance policy, elected to perform the repairs.  After the insurer’s contractor...

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Courts are not Here to Rewrite Bargained for Contractual Provisions

“Courts cannot disregard agreed-upon, contractual provisions between parties. To do so would be to strike the…[contractual] obligations from the contract ‘by way of judicial fiat and the bargained-for contractual terms would be rendered surplusage.’”  Peoples Trust Ins. Co. v. Amaro, 46 Fla.L.Weekly D1025a (3d DCA 2021). Courts are not here to rewrite negotiated contracts between the parties when, after-the-fact, one of the parties realizes they don’t like the terms of the contract.  Doing so would be rendering certain terms or language as surplusage or unilaterally striking terms that had been bargained.  Frankly, that would not be fair and defeat the very...

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A Defamation Claim of a Public Figure

Stating a defamation claim of a public figure is different and more rigorous than stating a defamation claim of a private figure. Florida employs a two-step process to determine if a person is a public figure: “First, the court must determine whether there is a public controversy. Second, the court must…determine whether the plaintiff played a sufficiently central role in the instant controversy to be considered a public figure for purposes of that controversy.” Reardon v. WPLG, LLC, 46 Fla.L.Weekly D836a, n.1 (Fla. 3d DCA 2021) (internal quotations and citations omitted). To assert a claim for defamation of a public figure, a...

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Civil Theft has a Rigorous Burden of Proof

Florida has a cause of action known as civil theft.   It is a statutory cause of action under Florida Statute s. 772.11 (referenced at the bottom of this article) that, just like criminal theft, requires a party to prove criminal intent with clear and convincing evidence.   See Bailey v. Covington, 46 Fla.L.Weekly D776a (Fla. 3d DCA 2021) (“To establish a claim for civil theft, a party must prove 1) that a conversion has taken place and 2) that the accused party acted with criminal intent. Such intent must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.”) (internal citation omitted).  See also United...

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There can be a Winner for Prevailing Party Attorney’s Fees when Both Parties Lose

From reviewing prior articles on attorney’s fees, you know that to be deemed the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees, particularly under a contractual based claim, a party needs to prevail on the significant issues in the case. What if a plaintiff has asserted a claim against a defendant and a defendant has a asserted a claim against the plaintiff and both parties LOSE on their affirmative claims?  Can a party still be deemed to prevail on the significant issues in the case?  That answer is yes based on the holding by the Second District Court of Appeals in Carrollwood...

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Attorney’s Fees and the “American Rule”

Not every cause of action asserted gives rise to an argument to recover attorney’s fees.  Florida follows what is known as the “American Rule” which is “attorney’s fees may be awarded by a court only when authorized by statute or agreement of the parties.”  State Farm Fire & Casualty Co v. Palma., 629 So.2d 830, 833 (Fla. 1993); Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co., N.A. v. Fitzgerald, 215 So.3d 116, 119 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (“It is well-established that attorney’s fees may not be awarded unless authorized by contract or statute.”); accord Attorney’s Title Ins. Fund, Inc., v. Landa-Posada,...

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Moving for a Remittitur to Reduce Jury’s Verdict

When a damages verdict comes in high for a plaintiff, it is not uncommon for a defendant to move for a remittitur for the trial judge to reduce the amount of damages arguing that the verdict is unreasonably excessive.   A motion for remittitur is a motion to reduce the jury's verdict award. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Fernalld v. ABB, Inc., 46 Fla.L.Weekly D542a (Fla. 4th DCA 2021) explained: When considering a motion for remittitur, the court must determine whether the amount of a damages award “is excessive . . . in light of the facts and circumstances which...

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