Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fourth DCA Denies Petition Challenging Constitutionality Of Section 57.011, Florida Statutes For Lack Of Jurisdiction

In Achord v. Osceola Farms Co. (4D09-1906), a divided panel of the Fourth District released an opinion relating to the $100 bond an out of state plaintiff is required to post for defense costs in accordance with section 57.011, Florida Statutes.  The majority opinion was written by Judge Warner.  With regard to the statute, the majority stated:
Section 57.011 was first enacted in 1828, well before the enactment of even the earliest Florida constitution containing a provision for access to the courts. Art I, § 9, Fla. Const. (1838). The practical reason for such a statute is to obtain security for a suit being prosecuted by a nonresident plaintiff.
Notably, the court stated:
Further, section 57.011 does not set a condition precedent to filing a cause of action. Only the defendant may invoke its provisions. A defendant may also not opt for dismissal of the claim and instead rely on the alternative provided of looking to the plaintiff’s attorney to cover the cost amount.
The court's conclusion:
Petitioners seek second-tier certiorari review of a decision of the circuit court sitting in its appellate capacity affirming a county court’s order dismissing approximately 1500 non-resident plaintiffs from a county court suit, because none of the plaintiffs posted the $100 bond for defense costs in accordance with section 57.011, Florida Statutes. We deny the petition as we conclude that we do not have jurisdiction under these facts.

The foregoing explains why we cannot say that the circuit court departed from the essential requirements of law or violated clearly established principles of law. Even the supreme court decisions appear to diverge when analyzing minimal fees or expenses involved in the litigation process. In a proper case brought to us on direct appeal, this issue would be ripe for our consideration. Our scope of review on second-tier certiorari is much narrower. Because there is no clearly established law to apply to this provision, we must decline jurisdiction.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Levine stated:
Petitioners make a compelling case for the merits of their position. In our constitution, access to the courts is one of the fundamental rights in the Declaration of Rights. Art. I, § 21, Fla. Const. (“The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.”). It would be very easy to brush aside the requirements for second-tier certiorari jurisdiction to get to the merits of this action. But, we are constrained by the law and the limits of our jurisdiction. “There is a great temptation in a case like this one to announce a ‘miscarriage of justice’ simply to provide precedent where precedent is needed.” Stilson, 692 So. 2d at 983. That temptation also exists in this case, but we do not have the authority to succumb to that temptation and exercise jurisdiction. 
The contours of jurisdiction are not so malleable for us to vindicate the rights of petitioners. As Justice Cardozo stated, “Jurisdiction exists that rights may be maintained. Rights are not maintained that jurisdiction may exist.” Berkovitz v. Arbib & Houlberg, 130 N.E. 288, 291 (N.Y. 1921).
In dissent, Chief Judge Gross stated:
I agree with Judge Cox’s well-reasoned dissent below that section 57.011, Florida Statutes (2009) is unconstitutional. An unconstitutional statute that barricades the courthouse to a group of indigent defendants is a violation of a “clearly established law” that results in a miscarriage of justice under Allstate Insurance Co. v. Kaklamanos, 843 So. 2d 885, 890 (Fla. 2003). 


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