Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dismissal With Prejudice for Discovery Violations Reversed

In PNC Bank, N.A. v. Duque (4D12-1799), the Fourth District reversed a trial court's order dismissing a complaint with prejudice as a result of discovery violations. In this foreclosure action, the defendant served numerous discovery requests to which the plaintiff, allegedly, failed to respond. As a result, the defendant sought sanctions and the trial court dismissed the case with prejudice. The plaintiff filed a motion for rehearing directed to the dismissal, however, that motion was denied and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the court held:
We have reviewed the trial court’s order. While indicating that the court considered the six Kozel factors, the order lacked specific findings as to each. We do not condone the bank’s failure to comply with discovery and court orders; we feel the trial court’s frustration. But, as the bank argues, the homeowners made numerous confusing and cumulative discovery requests while failing to file a responsive pleading for two years. There was no evidence that the violations were caused by the bank itself. The homeowners suffered no prejudice, and the bank’s violations did not cause any significant problem with judicial administration.  

The law does not always provide a good roadmap for trial courts. In this area of sanctioning non-compliant parties, however, our supreme court has done just that. See Kozel, 629 So. 2d at 818. When the trial court fails to follow that roadmap, reversal is warranted. See Bank One, 873 So. 2d at 521–22. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fifth District Affirms and Issues Sanctions Order On Own Motion

In Badgley v. SunTrust Mortgage (5D13-2500), the Fifth District affirmed the trial court's sanction order and, sua sponte, ordered "order Badgley and her attorney to pay, in equal amounts, the reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred by Appellees in this appeal, pursuant to section 57.105(1), Florida Statutes." There were a number of issues raised on appeal and are generally described below:
In her first issue, she baldly asserts that dismissing a complaint prior to discovery violates due process of law. The law is to the contrary.
In her second and third issues, Badgley argues that the dismissal of her complaint with prejudice was error even though she had already amended the complaint once as a matter of right and her quiet title theory was legally unsupportable based on the alleged facts. She claimed her lenders created a cloud on her title by refusing to respond to her absurd demand of them to "prove" that she owed them money. Not only is there no legal basis to support such a claim, the attachments to the complaint clearly demonstrate, as Badgley later admitted, that she 'took a mortgage and got the money.'
In her fourth issue, Badgley claims Appellees' fee motion below was untimely filed after the dismissal judgment even though Appellees' motion for sanctions was timely filed before the judgment awarding fees.
Finally, Badgley disputes the sanction award even though similar complaints by plaintiffs represented by her attorney have been dismissed and have been the basis for sanctions.
In a footnote to the discussion of the second and third issue, the court described the claim that the lender created a cloud on title as follows: "Badgley sent Appellees a written demand to 'validate that an actual debt exists' by producing twenty-three separate categories of documents. The demand stated that if Appellees failed to produce the information requested in their next correspondence, they would 'be accepting my offer to provide pen pal services at $100,000.00 per correspondence.' It further notified Appellees that by 'failure to validate the alleged debt,"as demanded, they would tacitly agree to waive any and all claims against Badgley, would release her from any encumbrances clouding title to her property, and would be subject to a quiet title action.'" (Emphasis is mine).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Florida Supreme Court: Unauthorized Immigrants Are Ineligible For Admission To the Florida Bar

In Florida Board of Bar Examiners Re: Questions as to Whether Undocumented Immigrants are Eligible for Admissions to the Florida Bar (SC11-2568), the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion today holding that an unauthorized alien residing in the United States is not authorized to obtain a license to practice law. 

The court stated that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners "asks the Court whether Applicant and any future similarly situated applicants are eligible for admission to The Florida Bar. As explained below, we answer the question by holding that unauthorized immigrants are ineligible for admission to The Florida Bar." 

Notably, the Department of Justice filed briefs in the case and argued that federal law prohibited the issuance of a law license to an unlawful alien. The court stated that "the United States Department of Justice argues that federal statutes prohibit this Court from issuing a law license to an unlawfully present alien, citing 8 U.S.C. § 1621 (2012). The Department of Justice also cites the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996....." 

Justice Labarga filed a concurring opinion and stated: "I reluctantly concur with the majority decision rendering an otherwise qualified class of applicants ineligible to practice law in Florida simply on the basis of their immigration status, but I do so only because the present state of federal and Florida law compels me to reach such an inequitable conclusion." Justice Labarga also noted that:
Indeed, in many respects, Applicant’s life in the United States parallels my own. He and I were brought to this great nation as young children by our hardworking immigrant parents. We both learned to read, write, and speak the English language within a short period of time. We excelled scholastically and graduated from college and law school—Applicant from Florida State University and I from the University of Florida. Both of us were driven by the opportunities this great nation offered to realize the American dream. Sadly, however, here the similarities end and the perceptions of our accomplishments begin. When I arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1963, soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis—the height of the Cold War—my parents and I were perceived as defectors from a tyrannical communist regime. Thus, we were received with open arms, our arrival celebrated, and my path to citizenship and the legal profession unimpeded by public policy decisions. Applicant, however, who is perceived to be a defector from poverty, is viewed negatively because his family sought an opportunity for economic prosperity. It is this distinction of perception, a distinction that I cannot justify regarding admission to The Florida Bar, that is at the root of Applicant’s situation. Applicant is so near to realizing his goals yet so agonizingly far because, regrettably, unlike the California Legislature, the Florida Legislature has not exercised its considerable authority on this important question. Thus, only reluctantly do I concur with the majority decision. 
Justice Pariente concurred with Justice Labarga's concurring opinion.