Dead End by Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik All Rights Reserved

Is it Appealable? July 2018 edition

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Is it appealable, or a dead end? Several district court decisions from this month answer that question in different ways.

Appealable or not?  The courts decide…

The immediate reaction to an adverse ruling is often “I want to appeal that!” But not all orders are immediately appealable, as several cases this month have shown. And sometimes, an order is immediately appealable even if the case continues for other reasons, and you can waive your rights to appeal if you don’t act immediately. The district courts of appeal have issued a number of decisions this month regarding appellate jurisdiction to review a trial court’s order, which usually comes down to the question “Is this a final order?” Below we’ve summarized just a few of the cases discussing finality and appealability the courts issued in July, grouping them by type of order. As always, if you have any questions regarding the finality or appealability of an order, contact us and we’d be glad to talk about your situation with you!

Orders on fees.

FCCI Commercial Insurance Co. v. Empire Indemnity Insurance Co., 2D17-1749 (Fla. 2d DCA July 13, 2018)[.pdf]

FCCI intervened in a pending case against its insureds after the trial court disqualified the attorney FCCI had retained on its insureds’ behalf and awarded attorneys’ fees to Empire based on that attorney’s misconduct. When FCCI appeared, the trial court imposed the award of those fees upon FCCI based on its finding that FCCI had directed the disqualified attorneys’ actions.  FCCI appealed that order.

On appeal, Empire argued the appellate court did not have jurisdiction over the appeal, presumably because there were proceedings still pending in the trial court.  The court disagreed, holding “Not only is the order awarding Empire attorney’s fees an executable judgment against FCCI concluding a portion of the litigation ancillary to Empire’s ongoing litigation against [FCCI’s insureds and other defendants], . . . but FCCI’s limited intervention solely for the purpose of addressing fees demonstrates that the conclusion of the attorney fees proceeding ended judicial labor as to FCCI,” citing Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.110(k)(review of partial final judgments) and a number of cases.

Yampol v. Turnberry Isle South Condominium Association, Inc., 3D17-2752 (Fla. 3d DCA July 5, 2018)[.pdf]

After dismissing a case in the trial court, both parties (Yampol and Turnberry) moved for attorney’s fees.  The trial court entered an order that denied Turnberry’s fees and granted Yampol entitlement to fees.  Upon a motion for reconsideration, the trial court changed its mind, granting Turnberry entitlement to fees and denying Yampol’s motion.  Yampol appealed.

Turnberry moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the order was not yet final because it found only entitlement, and not amount, as to its award of fees.  The appellate court determined “[t]he issue before us in this appeal is whether an order that grants one party’s entitlement to fees and denies the other party’s entitlement to fees ins an appealable final order.”

Ultimately, the court ruled the order was appealable because an “order denying a party’s claim for entitlement to attorney’s fees . . . is an appealable final order,” even if an order granting attorney’s fees as to entitlement but not to amount is not appealable.  The trial court ended all litigation as to Yampol’s fees in its second order so the order was final and appealable as to Yampol. This is a great example of how the same order can be final and appealable for one party but not another.

Orders to show cause.

Torres v. Lefler, 2D17-2741 (Fla. 2d DCA July 13, 2018)[.pdf]

The trial court ordered Mr. Torres to show cause within ten days why he should not be sanctioned for repeatedly filing frivolous lawsuits, failing which, sanctions would be imposed.  Mr. Torres filed a notice of appeal before the ten days was up.  The appellate court dismissed the appeal from that order, holding that the trial court merely reserved jurisdiction to impose sanctions and thus the order was not final or appealable.

Amended temporary orders while an appeal is pending.

Duryea v. Bono, 2D17-4314, 2D17-4422 (consolidated) (Fla. 2d DCA July 13, 2018)[.pdf]

In this family law appeal, the trial court rendered a Temporary Order for Timesharing on October 27, 2017.  Duryea filed a notice of appeal.  Then the trial court rendered an Amendment to the Temporary Order for Timesharing on November 2, 2017, substantively modifying the October 27, 2017, order.  Duryea filed another notice of appeal.

The appellate court affirmed the October 27, 2017, order.  However, it held that the November 2, 2017, order was a nullity because it was entered while the appeal from the prior order was pending and was substantive in nature.  Consequently, the court remanded with directions to vacate the November 2, 2017 order.

Orders granting partial summary judgment incorporating injunctive relief.

Woodfield Community Association, Inc. v. Ortiz, 2D18-341 (Fla. 2d DCA July 13, 2018)[.pdf]

The Ortizes sued their homeowner’s association.  In count 1, they sought a declaration that parking restrictions were void and unenforceable.  They moved for partial summary judgment, which the trial court granted.  The court declared prior fines void and enjoined the homeowner’s association from imposing further fines.  The association appealed.

The appellate court recognized that “Generally, orders that merely grant partial summary judgment, such as the one before us, are considered nonfinal, nonappealable orders.”  “However, Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130(a)(3)(B) provides us jurisdiction to review the portion of the order enjoining the association from enforcing the recorded declaration.”  The appellate court dismissed all other portions of the association’s appeal that did “not pertain to injunctive relief,” without prejudice to raising those issues in a later final appeal.

Timeliness of Notice of Appeal.

Elmouki v. Department of Transportation, 1D18-0715 (Fla. 1st DCA July 9, 2018)[.pdf]

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Review Board issued a letter rejecting Elmouki’s challenge to a citation he received while operating a commercial motor vehicle.  The letter was dated January 18, 2018, but included a timestamp showing it was filed with the clerk of the Department of Transportation on January 17, 2018.  Elmouki filed his notice of appeal on Monday, February 19.

The appellate court held that the 30-day time period for Elmouki to file his notice of appeal ran from the date the letter was rendered, which was the date it was filed with the Department.  Consequently, the time for Elmouki to file his notice of appeal expired on Friday, February 16, and Elmouki’s February 19 notice was untimely.

The appellate court dismissed the appeal without prejudice to Elmouki petitioning the Review Board to vacate and reissue the letter so that he could appeal.

In rem vs. personal jurisdiction.

Patel v. Wilmington Savings Bank, FSB, 5D17-1900 (Fla. 5th DCA July 6, 2018)[.pdf]

The trial court denied the Patels’ motion to quash constructive service of process, ruling that it had in rem jurisdiction.  The Patels appealed, presumably pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130(a)(3)(C)(i), which authorizes an appeal from a non-final order that determines the jurisdiction of the person.

However, the trial court did not determine the jurisdiction of the person, it only ruled on jurisdiction in rem, or over the property at issue.  Consequently, the appellate court held that rule 9.130(a)(3)(C)(i) did not provide a non-final appeal from the trial court’s order and thus dismissed the appeal.

Mootness.

Mitchell v. Brogden, 1D16-5849 (Fla. 1st DCA July 16, 2018)[.pdf]

Mitchell appealed a stalking injunction that expired by its own terms while the appeal was pending.  “Nonetheless, [the court held,] we cannot dismiss the appeal as moot because ‘collateral legal consequences flowing from such an injunction outlast the injunction itself.'” (citation omitted).

Preservation by motion for rehearing.

Mahoney v. Mahoney, 1D17-2071 (Fla. 1st DCA July 9, 2018)[.pdf]

Former Husband waived arguments for appeal regarding lack of written findings on trial support and some arguments regarding the cut-off date for the identification of a retirement plan as a marital asset by failing to include those arguments in a trial court motion for rehearing.

Looking for more?

Check out our past blog posts on rendition, timing of your notice of appeal, and post-judgment tolling motions, and check out our Florida Bar Journal article on how trial court motions for rehearing affect preservation on appeal.  Or scroll through the blog for more!

Blurred Lines and Appellate Preservation

Gaye Family lead counsel Richard Busch (left) explains the surprising preservation issues.

The higher the stakes in the litigation, the more important it is to have an appellate nerd in your corner, because you can’t make your arguments to the appellate court if you haven’t preserved them at trial. Most folks who follow copyright law are aware that the Ninth Circuit late last month upheld the jury verdict in favor of Marvin Gaye’s family holding that the song Blurred Lines infringed the copyright in Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up. See Williams v. Gaye, 885 F. 3d 1150 (9th Cir. 2018) [.pdf]. And while there are a lot of fascinating copyright issues there, even more important are the appellate preservation issues — the lawyers representing Thicke and Williams tanked large portions of their appeal before they even got there by failing to speak up at two important points at the trial: At the close of plaintiff’s evidence, and before the jury was dismissed after rendering its verdict.

Failure to make a Rule 50(a) Motion

In Federal Court, the rule that covers judgment as a matter of law (also sometimes called judgment notwithstanding the verdict or JNOV from the Latin judgment non obstante veredicto) requires that in a jury trial the Defendant must make a motion at the close of plaintiff’s evidence (Rule 50(a)) and then renew that motion at the end of the case (Rule 50(b)) in order to preserve a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. The Defendants were left with arguing that “a colloquy between their counsel and the district court regarding jury instructions and verdict forms qualifies as an “ambiguous or inartfully made” Rule 50(a) motion,” and should suffice for preservation purposes, but but the Court found that colloquy fell “far short” of even an inartful motion, and found sufficiency of the evidence unpreserved. Ouch. Williams v. Gaye, 885 F. 3d 1150, n.21 (9th Cir. 2018). In Florida, the equivalent requirement is for a motion for directed verdict.

Failure to Object to Jury’s Verdict

Defendant’s waived their objection to an alleged inconsistency in the jury’s verdict by failing to object before the jury was discharged. And this was not a controversial point — it was a pretty black letter rule that the court mentioned with citation to two older cases and moved on quickly. That objection must, must be made before the jury is discharged.

It can be very hard in the heat of battle — and trial can be a battle — to remember every possible preservation issue. That’s why we recommend you have an appellate specialist on your trial team. What you don’t want is to blur the lines of preservation.

Thank you to the panelists at the Florida Bar Business Law Section’s 9th Annual Intellectual Property Symposium for their fascinating presentations!

Evidence Rules Matter: Best Evidence Rule and Hearsay Require Reversal

In an appellate victory for DPW Legal, the Second District Court of Appeal issued an opinion today reaffirming that banks seeking to foreclose on homes must strictly adhere to evidentiary rules governing negotiable instruments and business records.

In Heller v. Bank of America NA, No. 2D14-3530 (Fla. 2d DCA. Jan. 27, 2017) [.pdf], the Bank at a foreclosure trial offered into evidence a copy of the note, rather than the original note, with its counsel asserting that the original had been recently filed with the court clerk. The trial court admitted the copy over defense counsel’s objection, citing the Best Evidence Rule, Section 90.953, Florida Statutes. The Bank also admitted into evidence (again over the homeowner’s objections) testimony of its representative based not on personal knowledge, but on his review of business records that were not in evidence or elsewhere in the court file.

DPW Legal attorney Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik argued on appeal that both rulings were abuses of discretion and an erroneous interpretation of the evidence code, and the Second District agreed. First, the Court held that Section 90.953 of the Florida Evidence Code requires any party seeking to enforce a negotiable instrument—such as the promissory note involved here—to produce and surrender the original of the instrument to the court. The Court rejected the Bank’s argument that the trial court was entitled to rely upon counsel’s assertions that the original had been filed with the clerk. The Court reaffirmed the longstanding tenet of law that a trial court may not “rely on an unsworn statement of counsel to make a factual determination.”