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The Not Widely Known Harris Act: Protection of Private Property Rights

There is a Florida statute not universally known called the “Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act” and oftentimes called the "Harris Act" for ease of reference.   The Harris Act is embodied in Florida Statute s. 70.001 (found here) and it deals with the protection of private property rights.  More specifically, it provides a private cause of action when the existing use (or vested rights) of property is inordinately burdened by the Florida government (including agencies thereof).  The Harris Act has some teeth in certain situations, as demonstrated below in a case example, and is a good...

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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...

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Yes, There is Such a Thing Called Apparent Authority

“But he did NOT have the authority….”   This is the beginning of a sentence that does not start well.   Agents have the authority to bind their principal.  “Even where there is no express agent/principal relationship, a principal may be bound by the acts of an agent acting with apparent authority.”  Clayton v. Poggendorf, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D436a (Fla. 4th DCA 2018).  Apparent authority sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and the reason why the sentence, “But he did not have the authority…,” does not start well.  If the person is deemed to have apparent authority then he did have the authority to bind...

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Defamation Per Se Opens Door for Punitive Damages

A defamation per se action opens the door for punitive damages even if actual damages cannot be shown or proven.  Lawnwood Medical Center, Inc. v. Sadow, 43 So.3d 710, 729 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).   This is because malice is presumed and, thus, the statements are presumed harmful as a matter of law.  Id.  However, “proof of liability for defamation per se requires a showing that the declarant knew or should have known the defamatory statement was not true.”  Tilton v. Wrobel, 198 So.3d 909 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).  Hence, while a claimant may not be able to prove actual damages...

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Make Sure Your Expert’s Opinion is Reliable

I use expert witnesses in many cases.  Many.  Experts are an important part of cases, particularly complicated disputes where an expert opinion is absolutely warranted.  But, as I have discussed in prior articles, an expert's opinion needs to have a foundation of reliability, which is governed by the Daubert standard.  Without ensuring that an expert's opinion is reliable, then parties will hire the Joe Blows of the world, pay them a minimal dollar amount, for an outrageous, unsupported, and unqualified opinion.  This, of course, provides no value.  Hence, the Daubert standard or test "requires that '[t]he testimony is based upon sufficient...

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Homestead Protection does Not Attach to Corporation (as Judgment Debtor Found Out!)

There are times where (potential) judgment debtors try to be way to crafty.  And, guess what, it doesn’t always work!  A recent case exemplifies this point. In DeJesus v. A.M.J.R.K. Corp., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D331a (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), a plaintiff sued a defendant corporation in a personal injury action.  During the litigation, the defendant corporation transferred residential property it owned to its sole shareholder.  This was done through a quitclaim deed and was obviously done as a down and dirty asset protection technique.  Of course, the quitclaim deed lacked consideration and was defective – the transfer was invalid. The plaintiff...

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Requests for Admissions as a Discovery Tool

Requests for Admissions are one of my favorite discovery tools in litigation. Requests for Admissions are designed to narrow the disputed facts by requiring the recipient of the request to admit or deny the requested fact. These should be served with the objective of having the recipient admit the requested fact.   If the recipient does admit the fact, then the fact is a stipulated fact – it does not need to be proved at trial because it is stipulated to.   Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.380(c) provides: (c) Expenses on Failure to Admit. If a party fails to admit the genuineness of any...

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Quick Note: Appeal of Jury Instructions with Wrong Burden of Proof

I recently talked about the burden of proof when it comes to an all-risk property insurance policy.  This article is important for insureds that have a property insurance claim and are dealing with certain insurance coverage issues with their property insurer. The case at-issue discussed in the article dealt with an appeal of the jury instructions that were read to the jury.  Specifically, the issue was whether the trial court applied the right burden of proof in the jury instructions.  This issue is reviewed under a de novo standard of appellate review.  See Jones v. Federated National Ins. Co., 43...

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Proving Defense of Unilateral Mistake

One affirmative defense to a breach of contract claim is the defense known as “unilateral mistake.” This is not an easy defense to prove and the party asserting this as a defense has the burden to prove it. Under this defense, the argument is that the contract cannot be enforced because there was a unilateral mistake that induced the party into entering into the contract. To prove the affirmative defense of unilateral mistake, the party asserting this defense must prove the following four elements: “(1) [T]he mistake was induced by the party seeking to benefit from the mistake, (2) there is no...

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Public Body is Afforded Sovereign Immunity

When it comes to pursuing a claim against a public body in Florida, you need to consider the application of sovereign immunity. This stands for the premise that the "king can do no wrong."  Sovereign immunity is an important issue and will dictate the types of claims you pursue against a public body, whether you pursue a claim against a public body, and the conditions precedent to pursuing such a claim against a public body. Public bodies are afforded sovereign immunity with a limited waiver of sovereign immunity set forth in Florida Statute s. 768.28.   The limited waiver of sovereign immunity...

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