Dead End by Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik All Rights Reserved

Is it Appealable? July 2018 edition

A street sign that displaying "dead end"

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!

Florida Court’s Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Party in Domestic Violence Cases

Florida courts may only act if they have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, even in the case of alleged domestic violence. Having family in Florida, visiting Florida on vacation in the past, and sending a spouse and children to visit family in Florida are insufficient contacts to confer personal jurisdiction.  Youssef v. Zaitouni, Case No. 2D17-926 (Fla. 2d DCA Feb. 14, 2018) [.pdf].

When is there personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state resident?

Husband, an Ohio resident, moved through counsel to vacate an injunction entered against him in Florida after his estranged Wife moved to Florida and sought and obtained a domestic violence injunction (DVI) against him.  Husband argued that Florida did not have personal jurisdiction over him because he did not have sufficient contacts with Florida under Florida’s long arm statute, Section 48.193.  The trial court found that family members residing in Florida and past visits were sufficient contacts with Florida to confer jurisdiction.  In the alternative, the trial court invoked its “emergency jurisdiction over the minor children” under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, Sections 61.501-542, Fla. Stat.  (UCCJEA).

The Second District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed the refusal to vacate the injunction, and remanded for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.  First, the court held that the contacts were not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction under the long arm statute.  Second, the court found that the UCCJEA governed custody proceedings, and did not create an independent basis for the trial court to exercise personal jurisdiction.

What does this mean for parties seeking domestic violence protection against an out-of-state spouse or alleged abuser?

For the accused party, we recommend you contact a family law attorney right away to discuss your options and determine whether a motion to quash is appropriate in your case.  If you appear in court or respond to the petition without a lawyer, you will likely waive this important defense.

For those seeking protection, we recommend you be prepared to demonstrate the accused’s contacts with the state of Florida.  If you cannot, you should consider instead seeking an injunction in the accused’s home state, and then having that injunction domesticated and enforced in Florida.

But please don’t take legal advice from a blog post.  These cases are complicated, and it is best to consult an attorney with experience in these matters to get advice specific to your unique circumstances.

Dineen Wasylik and Jared Krukar of DPW Legal represented the winning party on appeal. DPW Legal focuses on assisting parties in navigating complicated procedural issue, both on appeal, and by supporting trial counsel.

Many thanks to the trial counsel in this case, Felicia Williams of Father’s Rights Law, P.A.  who did an excellent job of preserving her client’s rights to appeal and to be heard in the proper jurisdiction.  Check out Felicia’s video on what to do if you are served with a domestic violence injunction.

Magistrates, Reconsideration, and Writs, Oh My!

Every once in a while a case comes along that is just a treasure trove of procedural goodness. It’s even nicer when you happen to know the prevailing party, and know the rules as applied helped the good guys. The case is Seigler v. Bell, Case No. 5D14-642 (Fla. 5th DCA Sept. 19, 2014)[.pdf]. The underlying dispute is a complicated child custody battle between a Mother and Grandmother. While there is no need to go into the nitty gritty of the underlying facts of the dispute, the decision today provides great insight into several issues of broad application: (a) The role of magistrates in proceedings before a trial court, (b) the important differences between rehearing and reconsideration at the trial court level, and (c) jurisdiction over writs of certiorari and mandamus. Let’s unpack each in turn.

Magistrates and Finality

The opinion lays out in detail the legal and procedural effect of an issue being heard by a magistrate. Most importantly:

While a magistrate’s report is more than a mere recommendation, it is not a final judgment, as magistrates lack the authority to enter final judgments….Even when no exceptions are filed, the trial court is “duty bound to examine and consider the evidence for itself and to make a judicial determination as to whether[,] under the law and facts[,] the court is justified in entering the judgment recommended” by the magistrate…. Merely “approving” the magistrate’s report is not sufficient to effect an appealable final judgment.

Slip. Op. at 7-8, citations omitted. In this case, both parties did file exceptions, and the trial court ruled on them, but the effect of that ruling was not a final judgment. The trial court rejected one party’s exceptions and accepted some of the other party’s exceptions, but the resulting order on the recommendation merely stated “the Report … is hereby modified….” Because the trial court “modified” the magistrate’s report but did not enter judgment, the order modifying the report (“the Modification Order”) was not a final order.

Rehearing v. Reconsideration

Whether the Modification Order was a final order is important in this case, because it is determinative of the next issue the appellate court decided — whether the Grandmother’s “Motion for Rehearing or Reconsideration” (the “Reconsideration Motion”) was timely and authorized. The Mother’s Petition sought review of the trial court’s order granting the Motion for Rehearing or Reconsideration. The Reconsideration Motion was filed 12 days after the trial court entered its order modifying the magistrate’s report and recommendation. If the Modification Order had been a final judgment, then it would be subject to a Rule 1.530 motion for rehearing. But then the Reconsideration Order would have been untimely, because at the time Rule 1.530 required that a motion for rehearing be served no later than 10 days after entry of judgment. (The rule was since amended to allow 15 days for service of a motion for rehearing).

The Court held that since the Modification Order was not a final order, the trial court had the inherent power to reconsider its interlocutory order at any time. Op. at 9. The court explained:

Motions for rehearing and motions for reconsideration are two distinct motions and, though they are often confused, they do not overlap. Motions for “rehearing” pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 apply only to final judgments and “those orders that partake of the character of a final judgment, i.e., orders that complete the judicial labor on a portion of the cause.” Motions for “reconsideration” apply to nonfinal, interlocutory orders, and are based on a trial court’s “inherent authority to reconsider and, if deemed appropriate, alter or retract any of its nonfinal rulings prior to entry of the final judgment or order terminating an action . . . .” … Nomenclature does not control, and motions for either “rehearing” or “reconsideration” aimed at final judgments shall be treated as rule 1.530 motions for rehearing, while motions aimed at nonfinal orders shall
be treated as motions for reconsideration.

Op. at 9-10, citations omitted. The Court also emphasized that the trial court had the power to sua sponte reconsider its own interlocutory orders. Op. at 10.

Certiorari, Mandamus, and Appealable Non-Final Orders

Because the Court had the power to reconsider its interlocutory order, the next question it considered was whether the order granting reconsideration in the Grandmother’s favor (“the Reconsideration Order”) was an appealable order. The Court didn’t even look at whether the Reconsideration Order was a final order, because it left open further proceedings and still did not take on the tenor of a judgment of the Court.

The Court considered but rejected the argument that the Reconsideration Order could be classified as an appealable nonfinal order under Rule 9.130(a)(3)(C)(iii), which allows for immediate appeal of orders determining the right to child custody in family law matters. It is not clear whether the Mother made this argument, but the Court did the right thing in considering it in any event, because Rule 9.040(c) allows that “if a party seeks an improper remedy, the cause shall be treated as if the proper remedy had been sought.” Fla. R. App. P. 9.040(c). However, the Court concluded that the order does not determine the right to custody, but “merely indicates that more evidence will be considered before the trial court determines Mother’s motion to revoke the prior temporary custody order.” Op. at 10. It’s a decision to take more evidence, not a determination of custody, and therefore not an appealable interlocutory order.

The court also considered whether the Mother’s Petition entitled her to the relief requested, certiorari or mandamus relief. Both certioari and mandamus are extraordinary appellate remedies, because they allow the appellate court to step in and rule on the propriety of an interlocutory order. The Court dismissed the Petition for Writ of Certiorari for lack of jurisdiction and denied the Petition for Writ of Mandamus.

The Mother argued in favor of certiorari review because, based on her view that the Rehearing Motion was untimely, the trial court was without jurisdiction to entertain it. The Court set out the standard test for certiorari relief:

“To obtain relief by way of a writ of certiorari, a petitioner must establish: 1) a departure from the essential requirements of the law, 2) a resulting material injury for the remainder of the trial, and 3) the lack of an adequate remedy on appeal.”… The second and third prongs of this three-part standard of review are often combined into the concept of “irreparable harm,” and they are jurisdictional.

Applying this test — and its prior procedural analysis that the trial court had the power to reconsider the Modification Order and enter the Reconsideration Order — the Court found that the Reconsideration Order neither departed from the essential requirements of law or caused irreparable harm. The Court therefore held that it lacked jurisdiction to grant the requested certiorari relief.

The request for mandamus relief likely asked the Court to order the trial court to enter final judgment on the Modification Order. As the Court explained:

“Mandamus is a common law remedy used to enforce an established legal right by compelling a person in an official capacity to perform an indisputable ministerial duty required by law.” … “To state a cause of action for mandamus, a party must allege a clear legal right to performance of the act requested, an indisputable legal duty, and the lack of an adequate remedy at law.”

Op. at 11 (citations omitted). In this case, because the trial court had the power to reconsider its own interlocutory order, the Mother could not prove she was entitled to compel the trial court to enforce an established legal right to entry of judgment in her favor. The Court therefore denied the petition for writ of mandamus.

Kudos

Congratulations again to my friend Vicki Levin Eskin of Levy & Associates, P.A. for her appellate win! Vicki represents the Grandmother in this case pro bono, to boot (that means free, folks).

Full Disclosure: I assisted Vicki pro bono in responding to the appellate motion for rehearing or rehearing en banc filed by the other side. I am pleased to report that the court denied rehearing today, so the decision is now final.