The Legacy of Justice Arthur J. England, Jr: A Supreme Court of Limited Jurisdiction

Justice Arthur England

–Justice Arthur England. Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

The Florida Bar Journal this month contains a fascinating analysis of the legacy of recently deceased former Florida Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. England. If you’ve ever gotten a PCA opinion from a District Court of Appeal and lamented the fact that you couldn’t seek further review from the Florida Supreme Court, it seems you have Justice England to thank. The article goes into great detail about Justice England’s consistent string of concurring and dissenting opinions in the late 1970s, all of which argued that the Florida Supreme Court should not go behind a no-opinion DCA decision to further review the underlying “record proper,” as the Court held it could in Foley v. Weaver Drugs, Inc., 177 So.2d 221, 225 (Fla. 1965). In 1978, then Chief Justice England appointed an Appellate Structure Commission, which analyzed the jurisdiction of the court system and eventually recommended a constitutional amendment to limit the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. By 1980, the Florida Supreme Court, interpreting it’s new constitutional scope, ruled that it lacked conflict jurisdiction over unelaborated PCAs. See Jenkins v. State, 385 So.2d 1356, 1359 (Fla. 1980).

The article provides lots of interesting background about the political and judicial workings at play to create such a sea-change in the jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court, and in the Florida court system as a whole. If you’re a rules geek like me, it is definitely worth the read!

Florida Appeals 101: What is a PCA?

Dead End by Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik All Rights Reserved

A PCA is usually the end of the road for your appeal.

A while back, I shared the story of a Florida appellate judge using a “PCA” stamp on his iPad, and a colleague in New York asked, “What’s a PCA”? I think it’s a sign that I have been practicing in Florida for more of my career than not at this point, because I didn’t realize that the term PCA is not a nationwide appellate term of art. An informal poll of attorneys in other jurisdictions confirms that the term PCA is not common amongst other states’ appellate courts.

Here in Florida, PCA stands for Per Curiam Affirmed, and it means that one of Florida’s intermediate District Courts of Appeal has affirmed the trial court’s decision without explanation. Instead, the opinion contains one word — “Affirmed” — and is listed as being the opinion of the entire panel per curiam, or by the Court.

So that’s what it means literally — what does it mean practically? If the District Court has issued a PCA, the appeal is most likely over. The Florida Supreme Court is a high court of limited jurisdiction. Unless your case involves declaring a statute valid or involves constitutional issues, the discretionary jurisdiction constitutionally and by rule is pretty much limited to review of:

decisions of district courts of appeal that…(iv) expressly and directly conflict with a decision of another district court of appeal or of the supreme court on the same question of law;

Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(a)(2)(A). Without a decision explaining the court’s reasoning, there is no way to argue that the decision “expressly and directly” conflicts with existing court precedent.

There is a procedure to ask the DCA to issue an opinion, but even that is an uphill battle. The rule states:

When a decision is entered without opinion, and a party believes that a written opinion would provide a legitimate basis for supreme court review, the motion may include a request that the court issue a written opinion. If such a request is made by an attorney, it shall include the following statement:

I express a belief, based upon a reasoned and studied professional judgment, that a written opinion will provide a legitimate basis for supreme court review because (state with specificity the reasons why the supreme court would be likely to grant review if an opinion were written).

Fla. R. App. P. 9.330(a). Not every case sets up that kind of potential conflict, and so motions for an opinion should be brought sparingly. And the majority of the time, PCA means you’ve hit a Dead End, and your appeal is over.

Appealing Confirmation of an Arbitration Award? No Rule, No Jurisdiction

The Third District Court of Appeal held (.pdf) it has no jurisdiction to review a trial court order confirming an arbitration award. What makes the case slightly interesting is that there is a provision of the Arbitration Code, Section 682.20, Fla. Stat., that purports to specifically allow such appeals. The Court joined its sister District, however, in holding that the statute doesn’t meet the jurisdictional requirements of the Florida Constitution, which holds that review of non final orders can be made only ‘the extent provided by rules adopted by the supreme court.’ Without a Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure, there is no jurisdiction.