Posts

Appeals 101:  When Can you Seek Rehearing in a State Court Appeal?

Needle in a Haystack

Determining whether there is an issue that warrants rehearing when you aren’t the lawyer who wrote the appeal briefs is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

We often get calls from litigants who have just found out they’ve lost their appeal and want to seek rehearing from the appellate court. Either they handled their appeal on their own, pro se (which we never recommend, but if you plan to do so, the Florida Bar Appellate Section has some great resources here), or else they utilized counsel but now that they’ve lost, they would like a second opinion.

And our answer is the same:  without even looking at your case, I can tell you that the chance of a motion for rehearing being granted is very low, and the likely result of my analysis of your case will be that you do not have a basis for rehearing.  How can I say that without even looking at your case, you ask? Well, it comes down to the rules.  Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.330 governs appellate rehearing, and sets very strict rules about when you can even bring a rehearing motion. The rules even require any lawyer filing such a motion to swear on their bar license that the motion is justified.  So while we are happy to take on a “peace of mind” review of your case to determine whether rehearing is even available, you have to understand that it rarely is.

You have to act quickly

. A motion for rehearing may be filed within 15 days of the District Court’s decision.  Fla. R. App. P. 9.330(a).  Fifteen days is not a lot of time to analyze the entire case file (opinion, all three briefs, and record) and determine whether there are grounds for rehearing, so if your goal is to hire a new lawyer to take a look at the issues, you have to move quickly.  I recommend hiring someone certainly within a week of the decision, if not sooner, so that person has the chance.  Anyone who says they can do a motion for rehearing without thoroughly analyzing all of the prior briefing does not understand motions for rehearing.

You have to meet a high standard

  There are two flavors of Rule 9.330 motion:  Rehearing and Clarification.  As the rule states, a motion for rehearing “shall state with particularity the points of law or fact that, in the opinion of the movant, the court has overlooked or misapprehended in its decision, and shall not present issues not previously raised in the proceeding.”  So basically, you have to walk a tightrope:  You can’t raise a new issue, but you also can’t just reargue what you said before.  Instead, you have to really find a place where the appellate court in its review truly overlooked or misunderstood something.  If you do just re-argue what you said before, you can be sanctioned.  As one court has explained, a motion for rehearing is not “a last resort to persuade th[e] court to change its mind, or to express …displeasure with th[e] court’s conclusion.”  Lawyers Title Ins Group v. Reitzes, 631 So.2d 1100, 1101 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (issuing order to show cause why lawyer should not be sanctioned for merely re-arguing the same things in a motion for rehearing).  Such motions should very rarely be filed.

Similarly, a motion for clarification “shall state with particularity the points of law or fact in the court’s decision that, in the opinion of the movant, are in need of clarification”. Fla. R. App. P. 9.330.  But clarification is only useful if something is unclear or confusing in the written opinion, which is rare.  I’ve filed exactly one motion for clarification in my career, and it was, in fact, granted.  I have never been more proud to have 2 words deleted from an opinion that I still lost.  But that just goes to show how rarely these motions should be filed and how even rarer it is to grant them.

In my entire career, I’ve filed only a handful of rehearing motions, and only a few of those were granted. That I’ve had any granted is a great track record, but all it shows is that I don’t file motions for rehearing that break the rule and re-argue what was said before or raise entirely new issues.

Should you bother with a Motion for Rehearing?

  Rehearing is rarely appropriate to request, and even more rarely granted.  It is perfectly reasonable to get an unfavorable decision from the District Court of Appeal, and decide there is nothing more to be done, without further analysis: the odds are stacked against you.  When we represent a client throughout the appeal, we include in our services an analysis of rehearing issues, and make a recommendation as to whether rehearing is appropriate (spoiler alert: the answer is usually no).  When we were not the appellate counsel all along, it’s much harder: to decide whether rehearing is appropriate, one has to read not just the opinion, but the briefs showing what was argued, the cases cited in the briefs, and even the record to understand what happened in the trial court.  That takes time!  We are always happy to analyze a file and look for the tiny nugget of gold that would allow us to file a supported motion for rehearing—for us it’s a fun challenge.  But we charge a fee to do so, because to do it right generally takes several hours of time. And we want to be very upfront that the process is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the answer will more likely than not be “sorry, we don’t advise seeking rehearing.”

Still not deterred?  If you have gotten a decision from the appellate court and want to hire us to determine whether rehearing is appropriate, feel free to schedule an intake consult.  Be sure to give us your case number and full contact information so we can run a conflicts check.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User Michael Gil Used under a CC 2.0 license

Voluntary Dismissal Leads to (almost) Writ of Prohibition

The Third District recently confirmed that a trial court loses jurisdiction over the substance of a case once a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses under Rule 1.420(a)(1), and that with only one rare exception a Court cannot set aside such a dismissal. U.S. Bank N.A. v. Rivera, Case No. 3D15-1415 (Fla. 3d Dist. April
27, 2016) [.pdf].

The case has a complicated procedural history: The Bank initiated foreclosure in 2009, and served the defendants by publication, obtaining a default judgment. In 2011, the Bank sought to vacate and set aside that judgment, citing “irregularities in the actions taken by its former counsel,” and the Riveras, too, sought to relief from the judgment pursuant to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540. Id. at 2. In 2013, the trial court finally entered the Bank’s 1.540 motion to vacate the judgment, and shortly thereafter, the Bank voluntarily dismissed the foreclosure action. Id. at 3.

The Riveras, however, did not stop litigating. They moved to set aside the voluntary dismissal for fraud on the court, attempted to engage in discovery to uncover the fraud, and sought sanctions against the Bank for failing to comply with the discovery. The Bank eventually sought the instant writ of prohibition to stop the trial court from continuing to exercise jurisdiction over the dismissed case.

What is a Writ of Prohibition?

A writ of prohibition is not an appeal in the traditional sense. Rather, it is an action, on the original jurisdiction of the district court of appeal, “to prevent courts from acting when there is no jurisdiction to act.” Sutton v. State, 975 So. 2d 1073, 1076 (Fla. 2008); see also Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(3). Here, seeking a writ of prohibition was the appropriate remedy, because the party contended that the trial court was continuing to act even though it lacked jurisdiction to do so.

Citing to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Pino v. Bank of New York, 121 So. 3d 23 (Fla. 2013), the Court ruled that the Rivera’s attempts to secure a dismissal with prejudice were not authorized by Rule 1.540. Specifically, the Court explained that “a trial court has neither the authority under rule 1.540 nor the inherent authority to grant relief from a voluntary dismissal where fraud on the court is alleged but no affirmative relief has been granted to the dismissing plaintiff.” Id. at 4-5.

Interestingly, the appellate court stopped just shy of actually issuing the writ of prohibition. When initiating a writ of prohibition, the rules require that the petitioner name the judge or lower tribunal as a “formal party to the petition” in the body of the petition, but not add the judge’s name to the caption. Fla. R. App. P. 9.100(e). The opinion ruled in favor of the petitioner, but the court stated that it would “withhold issuance of this court’s writ confident that the court below will refrain from further action in this matter.” In other words, the Court did not want to embarrass the trial judge, but ordered him or her to stop taking action in the case.