Significant Appellate/Trial Decisions

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Jennifer S. Carroll before the 4th DCA in School Board of Palm Beach County v. Groover, 337 So. 3d 799 (Fla. 4th DCA 2022). Ms. Carroll’s argument begins at 16:46.


Whistleblower’s discrimination claim upheld

School Board of Palm Beach County v. Groover, 337 So. 3d 799 (Fla. 4th DCA 2022)

HELD: [1] Sufficient evidence supported jury verdict for employee of a public school district who brought action under the Public Sector Whistleblower’s Act, alleging that he was demoted from his position as assistant principal to a teaching position by the principal of high school in retaliation for his participation in an investigation by the
board’s office of inspector general (IG). [2] Board was not entitled to new trial; and [3] Trial court was required to award front pay to employee.

Constitutional right to contract upheld

Lugassy v. Lugassy, 298 So. 3d 657 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020).

Appellate court reversed trial court’s order requiring corporate shareholder to sign contracts. Appellate court recognized that a shareholder has a fundamental constitutional right to refuse to sign a contract being sought by other shareholder.

Permanent alimony and rebuttable presumptions

Harkness v. Harkness, 2020 WL 4342716 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020)

Appellate court reversed trial court’s denial of permanent alimony. Appellate court ruled that there is a rebuttable presumption in favor  of permanent alimony in a long-term marriage, and the trial court must always consider a spouse’s ability to pay.

Proportionate share setoff rule applied

Rio Mar Assocs., LP v. UHS of Puerto Rico, Inc., 522 F.3d 159 (U.S. 1st Cir. 2008)
Hotel guest, who suffered injuries after being struck by a wave while swimming in the ocean, brought personal injury action against hotel alleging negligent failure to warn of hazardous beach conditions and negligent entrustment of beach safety to untrained and ill-equipped lifeguards and against treating hospital alleging, among other things, medical malpractice. After the hospital settled and jury returned a verdict in favor of guest, the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico denied hotel’s motions for a new trial and to alter or amend the verdict. Hotel appealed.

The First Circuit concluded that the district court erred as a matter of law in its assessment of the effect of its own instruction and, thus, erred in its interpretation of what the first-phase verdict signified. The jury award encompassed both the damages attributable to the Hotel’s beachfront negligence and the aggravating damages attributable to the Hospital’s alleged malpractice. Consequently, the district court erred in foreclosing further litigation; the Hotel was entitled to some process by which it could test how the plaintiff’s total damages – $1,844,000 – should be allocated as between it and the Hospital. The district court should not have denied the Rule 59(e) motion or dismissed the cross-claim without pursuing that inquiry.

The plaintiff and the Hospital cannot by contracting between themselves deny a third party rights that the third party (here, the Hotel) enjoys under the law.

The pivotal question concerns the allocation of damages as between settling and non-settling tortfeasors in a successive tortfeasor case.

The First Circuit held that the proportionate share setoff rule delineated in Szendrey v. Hospicare, 158 D.P.R. 648 (P.R. 2003) applied to this case.

United Engineering Corp. v. Hill/MK JV, 916 So. 2d 803 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005)

Summary judgment upheld on appeal.

HELD: Construction manager entitled to judgment as a matter of law: the contract provision established that inspections and tests conducted by the contractor were for the benefit of the owner, and not the Plaintiff. Plaintiff could not justifiably rely on such information in carrying out its obligations under the contract. So no cause of action under Section 552 of the Florida Statutes and Second of Torts which recognized a cause of action in certain limited circumstances where information is negligently supplied for the guidance of others.

Balfour Beatty Constr. v. Morrison-Knudsen, 275 F.3d 55 (U.S. 11th Cir. 2001)

$4.44 million dollar judgment against Morrison Knudsen Corp. in a construction dispute reversed.

Leisure Time Coins, Inc. v. Republic Metals Corp. and RMC2, LLC, Case No. 01-14-0001-8760 (American Arbitration Association) (2016)

Prevailed on all issues before commercial arbitration tribunal involving dispute between precious metals and bullion dealer and precious metals purchaser. [Claims made under breach of contract; Florida Deception and Unfair Trade Practices Act; civil RICO; conversion; unjust enrichment]

Martinez v. Smith, 159 So. 3d 394 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015)

Trial court’s appointment of professional guardian reversed.

HELD: The trial court erred in failing to honor a ward’s choice of guardian without finding that the appointment of his designated preneed guardian was contrary to the ward’s best interests as required by § 744.312(4), Fla. Stat. (2012).

The trial court’s finding that appellant had moved the ward several times and did not communicate well with a care facility’s staff did not show that appellant “abused powers” granted to her by her designation as the ward’s health care surrogate such that those powers could be modified or revoked in accord with § 744.3115, Fla. Stat. (2012).

Smith v. Smith, 224 So. 3d 740 (Fla. 2017)

Trial court’s annulment of marriage reversed.

HELD: The appellate court erred by finding that the marriage was void because the Legislature did not intend for the concept of a “void” or “voidable” marriage to apply to the disputed provision in § 744.3215(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2016). The statute did not preclude the possibility of ratification of a marriage if the court subsequently gave its approval.

Stanley v. Precision Mechanical, Inc., Precision Fabricating & Cleaning Co., Inc., Chemko Technical Services, Inc., Washington Group International, Inc., and The Boeing Company, Case No. 05-2002 CA 006637 (18th Jud. Cir. Ct., Brevard County, Florida) (2003)

Effectuated favorable settlement for Boeing’s general contractor.

Rafael Barrera v. ECRV, et al., Case No. 08 67650 CA 24 (11th Jud. Cir. Ct., Miami-Dade County, Florida) (2015)

Litigated post-judgment proceedings and effectuated global settlement in favor of various limited liability companies and investor entities.

Magwood v. Tate, 835 So. 2d 1241 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003)

Final monetary judgment against Estate reversed. Appellate court agreed that law will not find unjust enrichment to create a contract implied- in -law. Case remanded for entry of judgment in favor of Estate.

HELD: There was no cause of action for a quasi contract as it was inequitable to force the child, whose estate won a large wrongful death award, to reimburse the mistaken father. The father discharged the duty of the biological father, not the child.

Seelbinder v. County of Volusia, 821 So. 2d 1095 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002)

Directed verdict in  negligence action involving a lightning strike upheld.

HELD: To say that a jury question of negligence arose post hoc from the fact of a lightning strike would impose an unfair and undue burden on county akin to strict liability.

Columbia/JFK Med. Ctr. Ltd. P’ship v. Sanguonchitte, 920 So. 2d 711 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006)

Petition for Writ of Certiorari granted. Credentialing file protected from discovery by statutory peer review privilege.

HELD: Because the documents contained in a doctor’s file were part of the credentialing and peer review process and directly related to the doctor’s hospital staff membership privileges, the documents fell within the peer review privilege set forth in Fla. Stat. §§ 395.0191(8), 766.101(5); consequently, a medical center was entitled to certiorari relief.

Proto v. Graham, 788 So. 2d 393 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001

Final monetary judgment in legal malpractice action reversed. Appellate court agreed that directed verdict should have been entered and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of appellant.

Ovadia v. Doctors’ Hosp., 705 So. 2d 17 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997)

Summary judgment in favor of hospital on ground that party could not establish “intentional fraud” in the peer review process, and therefore had no cause of action for monetary damages. Summary judgment upheld on appeal.

Karr v. Sellers, 668 So. 2d 629 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996)

$675,000 dental malpractice jury verdict reversed.

HELD: The lower court erroneously struck dentists’ answer to plaintiff’s complaint in a dental malpractice action and sanctions were only permissible if defendants were not in compliance with the reasonable investigation requirements.

Lift v. Lift, 1 So. 3d 259 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009)c

Final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

HELD: (1) trial court could not award husband and wife each a 50 percent share of wife’s veterinary practice; (2) trial court erred in failing to follow the parties’ stipulation; (3) trial court could not order sale of the marital home; and (4) trial court could not award alimony to husband without making required findings of fact.

At trial level: Following appeal, obtained favorable judgment. Due to substantial contributions, spouse received unequal distribution (90%) of value of business. Final judgment upheld on a subsequent appeal.

Armstrong v. Armstrong, 623 So. 2d 1216 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993)

Final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

HELD: (1) pretrial stipulation on income was binding; (2) imputing additional income to husband was error; (3) awarding former wife attorney fees in spite of relative equal financial circumstances was abuse of discretion; and (4) order requiring husband to pay children’s future medical bills must be limited to reasonable and necessary medical expenses.

Johnson v. NME Hospitals, Inc., Case No. CL 92-2706 AN (15th Jud. Cir. Ct., Palm Beach County, Florida)

Obtained final summary judgment on several class action complaints against several hospitals throughout Florida, alleging illegal billing practices. Upheld on appeal.

Pallay v. Fair Oaks Hospital (Tenet), Case No. CL 89 12664 AO (15th Jud. Cir. Ct., Palm Beach County, Florida)

Obtained summary judgment on state and federal RICO claims and false imprisonment counts – involving allegations of fraudulent billing practices. Upheld on appeal.

Johnson v. FFE Transportation Services, Inc., 227 Fed. Appx. 780 (11th Cir. 2007)

$1,700,024.00 jury verdict upheld on appeal.

HELD: District court did not abuse its discretion in awarding guardian new trial in suit to recover damages for injuries sustained by ward when bus was hit by tractor-trailer; evidence showed that tractor driver was at least partially negligent under Fla. Stat. §768.81(3) for driving very fast after observing slow-moving bus and entering patch of fog.

Hickman v. Barclay’s Int’l Realty, Inc., 16 So. 3d 154 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009)

Final summary judgment in malicious prosecution action upheld..

M.M. v. Adoption of J.T.M., 821 So. 2d 1134 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002)

HELD: Trial court erred in granting grandparents’ motion to withdraw consent from birth mother in anticipation of adoption, where they failed to present clear and convincing evidence of her complete abandonment of the child and her responsibilities. Appellate court held that more is required to excuse consent then abuse, neglect, or even temporary abandonment. Abandonment requires a complete relinquishment of responsibility.

Advanced Chiropractic & Rehab. Ctr. v. United Auto. Ins. Co., 103 So. 3d 866 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

HELD: Circuit court erred in reversing a county court’s order vacating a dismissal order on the basis that the county court abused its discretion when it granted the order based on unsworn testimony. Denial of due process. The insurer that appealed the order had not raised any evidentiary objections at the hearing nor did it raise any evidentiary arguments on appeal.

Advanced Chiropractic & Rehab. Ctr. v. United Auto. Ins. Co., 140 So. 3d 529 (Fla. 2014)

HELD: Where the prevailing party filed a motion for attorney’s fees six days after the district court granted a petition for writ of certiorari, the motion was timely because Fla. R. App. P. 9.300, not Fla. R. App. P. 9.400(b), controlled since Rule 9.400(b) did not apply to attorney’s fees requests filed in Fla. R. App. P. 9.100 original proceedings. The district court misapplied Stockman v. Downs and Green v. Sun Harbor Homeowners’ Ass’n, Inc. because those cases addressed requests for attorney’s fees at the trial level, not to a request for appellate-level original writ attorney’s fees.

Bonney v. Bonney, 94 So. 3d 702 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

Trial court’s award of brother’s fees against sister in probate reversed.

HELD: District court reversed trial court’s order awarding fees which relied on Sections 733.609 and 733.106(3), Florida Statutes (2010). Court held those statutes were not applicable.

Levin v. Levin, 67 So. 3d 429 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011)

Judgment assessing attorneys’ fees against beneficiary’s share of the estate reversed..

HELD: Sections 733.609 and 733.106(3), Florida Statutes, are not applicable.

Levin v. Levin, 60 So. 3d 1116 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011)

HELD: Judgment that the decedent, the parties’ mother, had testamentary capacity was reversed and remanded because the trial court never decided whether a contradiction in evidence rose to the level of insane delusion and whether an incorrect statement repeated by the decedent was linked to reducing the bequest to her daughter from an earlier will.

Conlan v. Conlan, 43 So. 3d 931 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010)

HELD: Trial court abused its discretion under § 61.16(1), Fla. Stat., in denying a wife’s request for fees and costs because, given the husband’s ability to pay and the disparity in the parties’ incomes, requiring the wife to pay for her attorney’s fees would have resulted in an inequitable diminution of her equitable distribution funds.

Varela v. Bernachea, 917 So. 2d 295 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005)

HELD: Because a boyfriend did not rebut a girlfriend’s gift presumption when he openly admitted that he gave her access to their joint account via a check card, the trial court erred in finding that the boyfriend was the sole owner of the account.

Beseau v. Bhalani, 904 So. 2d 641 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005)

HELD: The trial court erred in assessing attorney’s fees and costs against the personal representative in her individual capacity because the personal representative, individually, was never a party to the proceeding. Thus, the entry of judgments against her was erroneous, notwithstanding the lack of objection.

Bollaci v. Nieporte-Bollaci, 863 So. 2d 440 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003)

HELD: Where no evidence was presented to determine whether the proceeds from a former husband’s personal injury claim were subject to equitable distribution, the trial court erred in treating them as marital assets and equally distributing them.

Colbert v. Rolls, 746 So. 2d 1134 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999)

HELD: The trial court was correct in denying petitioner’s protective order because the discovery sought to determine whether petitioner’s religious beliefs influenced his medical treatment or contributed to alleged negligence.

Columbia Hosp. Corp. v. Barrera, 738 So. 2d 505 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999)

HELD: An order instructing defendant hospital to turn over a doctor’s application for medical privileges was quashed, as such material was protected from discovery by statutory privilege contained in Section 395.0191, Florida Statutes.

M.S. v. D.C., 763 So. 2d 1051 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999)

HELD: Father’s egregious abuse and abandonment of children due to murder conviction was cause for termination of parental rights, but grandparents’ visitation was denied where there was no cause for state intervention into surviving parent’s privacy.

Amba-An v. Arias-Turecious, 704 So. 2d 1093 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997)

HELD: Under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine, a long-term lessor of an uninsured flatbed truck was vicariously liable for injuries inflicted on a motorist in a traffic accident caused by the negligence of the lessee.

Sholkoff v. Boca Raton Community Hosp., 693 So. 2d 1114 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997)

HELD: Because a hospital patient and hospital made clear in their agreement that costs included fees, it was not error to award attorney’s fees in the award of costs to the hospital.

K.D. v. Department of Juvenile Justice, 694 So. 2d 817 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997)

HELD: The statute under which appellant was confined to restore her competency was constitutional because the rules did not require a psychiatrist for either juveniles or incompetent adult defendants.

Rodriguez v. Loxahatchee Groves Water Control Management Dist., 636 So. 2d 1348 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994)

HELD: The court reversed an order granting a new trial because the evidence of other similar acts was relevant to show appellee’s knowledge of dangerous conditions and because a curative jury instruction remedied inflammatory statements made by counsel.

Psychiatric Inst. of Delray, Inc. v. Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc., 588 So. 2d 14 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991)

HELD: Where the record revealed substantial uncertainty as to whether the trial court intended to hear respondent newspaper’s motion to vacate certain protective orders on a particular hearing date, petitioner did not receive adequate notice.

Boca Raton Community Hosp. v. Jones, 584 So. 2d 220 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991)

HELD: In a medical malpractice action, various hospital documents were privileged from discovery in view of the confidentiality of investigations, proceedings, and records of medical review committees and boards.

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