Jurisdiction and Extraordinary Writs

Sometimes, you can win the battle and lose the war. So it can be with jurisdiction. Even if you are correct that there is no jurisdiction over an appeal in the Florida intermediate appellate courts, the Court still has the discretion to treat an appeal as a request for an extraordinary writ.

And that’s exactly what the Second District Court of Appeal did to late last month. (Full disclosure, I was attorney of record for the Appellee on this case). On the eve of a hearing on the Defendants’ summary judgment motion, the Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal. The Defendant asked the trial court to strike the notice of voluntary dismissal, arguing that it had attained rights in the case precluding voluntary dismissal and fraud on the court. The trial court did so, and the plaintiff appealed.

The problem, however, was that the order they were attempting to appeal was neither a final appealable order nor an order available for interlocutory appeal. And I elloquently told the court so.

The Second DCA knew I was right:

We briefly address this court’s jurisdiction to consider this appeal. Service Experts’ notice of appeal was filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130(a)(5). The Northside defendants have argued that this court does not have jurisdiction under rule 9.130(a)(5) because that rule applies to orders entered on motions for relief from judgment filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540. They state that their motion to strike the notice of voluntary dismissal was not made pursuant to rule 1.540 because that rule applies to final judgments, decrees, orders, or proceedings, and the voluntary dismissal they sought to set aside was not a final judgment, decree, or order. We agree with their procedural assessment.

However, the Court dug deep and created a remedy for the Plaintiff by converting the appeal to a writ of prohibition, pursuant to Rule 9.040(c):

Based on the facts of this case, appellate jurisdiction does not neatly fall within the confines of rule 9.130(a)(5). Nevertheless, Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.040(c) provides that when a party seeks an improper remedy, “the cause shall be treated as if the proper remedy had been sought.” Here, a writ of prohibition is appropriate “to forestall an impending injury where no other appropriate and adequate legal remedy exists and only when damage is likely to follow.” City of Ocala v. Gard, 988 So.2d 1281, 1283 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008). It is “the appropriate remedy to prevent an inferior tribunal from acting in excess of jurisdiction” where there is no right to remedy the wrong at issue by direct appeal. Id. at 1283. Because we conclude that the trial court’s order was in excess of its jurisdiction, we have appellate jurisdiction to “forestall an impending injury”-forced litigation after the plaintiff’s notice of voluntary dismissal was filed. As there is no other adequate remedy, we convert this appeal to a writ of prohibition.

Now, the rules geek in me does, in fact, feel vindicated that I was right about the jurisdiction issue. But that’s not much comfort to the client, who had a favorable ruling overturned.

A request for clarification is pending on the appeal. The case is Service Experts, LLC v. Northside Air Conditioning & Elec. Service, Inc., No. 2D09-5416, ___ So.3d ____ (September 22, 2010) [.pdf].

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