Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dismissal of Declaratory Judgment Claim Reversed

In Murphy v. Bay Colony Property Owners Association (2D08-2246), the Second District reversed the trial court's order dismissing the plaintiff/appellant's claim for declaratory relief.

A complaint for declaratory judgment should not be dismissed if the plaintiff established the existence of a justiciable controversy cognizable under the Declaratory Judgment Act, chapter 86, Florida Statutes (2007). See Thompson v. Fla. Cemeteries, Inc., 866 So. 2d 767, 769 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004). As this court has previously stated, "[t]he test for the sufficiency of a complaint for declaratory judgment is not whether the plaintiff will succeed in obtaining the decree he seeks favoring his position, but whether he is entitled to a declaration of rights at all." "X" Corp. v. "Y" Person, 622 So. 2d 1098, 1101 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993). Thus, Murphy needed to demonstrate that she "is in doubt as to the existence or nonexistence of some right, status, immunity, power, or privilege and that [s]he is entitled to have such doubt removed." Id. Murphy must also show a "bona fide, actual, present, and practical need for the declaration." Id. (citing Platt v. Gen. Dev. Corp., 122 So. 2d 48, 50 (Fla. 2d DCA 1960)).

However, the trial court, in granting Bay Colony's motion to dismiss, held that the agreement was not ambiguous because Bay Colony "must give its approval for the improvements Murphy desires." We find the trial court improperly ruled on the final merits of Murphy's claim rather than on the sufficiency of her complaint. See id. Therefore, the trial court's determination was inappropriate at the motion to dismiss stage and cannot be considered a substitute for a motion for summary judgment. Id.; Consuegra, 801 So. 2d at 112.


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