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Friday, September 30, 2005
 
Friday Florida Law Trivia!
A little late today, but it's been a busy morning with work and the few posts I've squeezed in.

Tomorrow, a new law takes effect that extends Florida's "castle doctrine" to any place one has a right to be. You may know that under the common law, a person could not defend himself with deadly force if retreat was an option. The exception to the retreat rule was when one was home -- there was no duty to retreat from your own home, your "castle."

Under the law that takes effect tomorrow, the duty to retreat is eliminated not only in one's home but in a car or anywhere a person has a lawful right to be. The use of deadly force must still be reasonable, but the obligation to retreat is eliminated.

All that background brings me to today's trivia question:

If a madman with a gun accosts someone on the street today (the day before the new law takes effect), and the victim does not retreat as she could but instead uses her own gun to defend herself, killing her attacker, can she be found liable for murder because she did not retreat? What if she is not arrested until after tomorrow, when the new law takes effect?

Because this question is going up late today, I'll post the answer early tomorrow morning.

 
DNA Test Deadline Again Extended
Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court once again extended Rule 3.853's deadline for filing postconviction motions for DNA tests. You can read the brief unsigned order here.

The idea behind the DNA testing issue has been that persons convicted of crimes who did not have the benefit of DNA testing at the time of conviction -- either to prove innocence or demonstrate that they should receive a reduced sentence -- should now be given the benefit of DNA testing.

When "now" ends is where the controversy begins.

In 2001, the legislature passed this statute, which allowed postsentencing DNA testing to be requested by a defendant or considered by a court within two years of a conviction or by October 1, 2003, whichever comes later. In essence, the legislature created a two-year window for defendants to raise DNA challenges. Defendants in new cases had two years from their conviction. Defendants in old cases had until October 1, 2003.

To provide complementary procedural guidelines, later that year the state supreme court adopted rule 3.853, which implemented the key deadline for old cases: October 1, 2003.

All was well until October 2003 approached. Reportedly, many defendants had not yet had an opportunity to seek DNA tests under the new rule and law. A key concern at the time was that the statute required relevant evidence to be maintained only through the October 1, 2003 date, and there were fears that critical evidence might be destroyed after the October 1 deadline but before the legislature could approve an extension.

So, on September 30, 2003, the Florida Supreme Court released this order which "suspended" the October 1, 2003 deadline while the court considered further action. The order expressly required DNA evidence to be maintained in the meantime.

Whether the court had the authority to enter that order that in the face of a contrary statute was the subject of a vigorous three-justice dissent. Those interested in the separation of powers issues would be much intrigued by the order and its additional opinions.

In 2004, while the court was still considering further action, the legislature amended section 925.11 to extend the deadline in old cases until October 1, 2005. That made the court's job easy. On September 15, 2004, in this order, the court amended rule 3.853 to extend the key deadline to October 1, 2005. This time, there was no controversy.

That brings us to yesterday. The statutory deadline expires tomorrow, and again there is concern that many defendants have not yet completed their DNA challenges. Yesterday's order amends rule 3.853 on an "interim" basis to extend the old case deadline to July 1, 2006. The order is not signed by any justice, and there is no dissent.

The order invites comments and indicates that an oral argument may be held in the matter.

 
All Writs
Perhaps no Florida jurisdictional concept is more misused or misunderstood than that of the state supreme court's "all writs" jurisdiction.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of some, the constitutional all writs power does not allow the court to enter any order that furthers justice. In fact, the all writs power is not an independent source of jurisdiction at all. Rather, as the Florida Supreme Court explained yesterday in this opinion, the all writs power simply allows the court to act in ways necessary to complete the exercise of jurisdiction otherwise granted to the court.

Now, whether that narrow definition of the all writs power squares with all of the high court's decisions invoking it is an entirely different matter...

 
Rules Amendments
If your practice involves probate matters, you may wish to check out the amended probate rules adopted yesterday by the Florida Supreme Court.



Thursday, September 29, 2005
 
Supreme Watchlist
Florida courtwatchers may note that, once again, one of our own remains on some short lists (like this one) as a possible nominee to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor:

Justice Cantero
Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul G. Cantero, III

 
Congratulations
Our federal judiciary has a new chief justice. Congratulations, Chief Justice Roberts.

 
Third District: Street Performers Ban Unconstitutional
Yesterday, the Third District released this important decision that declared unconstitutional a city's law banning "fixed location" public street performances or art vending without a permit.

The ordinance at issue was adopted by the City of Miami Beach to curtail the number of street performers and sellers that the public and local businesses must encounter on the city's streets. The court determined that the ordinance was content neutral but that its significant breadth failed the time, place, and manner constraints imposed by the First Amendment.

To be clear, the court did not hold that the city could not adopt any ban on street performances and sales. The court just held that the existing ban was too broad.

 
Fourth District: Hard Drive Discovery
This decision released yesterday by the Fourth District will be the subject of national attention.

The court reviewed an order that allowed the Broward County School Board, through an expert, to examine the entire contents of every computer hard drive in a high-school teacher's home. The board was administratively prosecuting the teacher for misconduct involving an alleged exchange of sexually explicit messages with a student.

The teacher argued that the blanket discovery order would compromise confidential, private, or privileged information, including irrelevant information and information he had a Fifth Amendment right not to disclose.

The Fourth District quashed the order.

The court deserves a great deal of credit for appreciating the breadth of the challenged discovery order. In what will become a common analogy in such cases, the court analogized unfettered access to entire hard drives to similar access to an opponent's filing cabinets:

Today, instead of filing cabinets filled with paper documents, computers store bytes of information in an "electronic filing cabinet." Information from that cabinet can be extracted, just as one would look in the filing cabinet for the correct file containing the information being sought. In fact, even more information can be extracted, such as what internet sites an individual might access as well as the time spent in internet chat rooms. In civil litigation, we have never heard of a discovery request which would simply ask a party litigant to produce its business or personal filing cabinets for inspection by its adversary to see if they contain any information useful to the litigation. Requests for production ask the party to produce copies of the relevant information in those filing cabinets for the adversary.
Ultimately, the court held that a blanket request to discover the entire contents of a hard drive cannot be the starting point for electronic discovery in a case. The case involved no evidence that the teacher had destroyed evidence or thwarted the board's discovery efforts.

Electronic discovery is certainly a hot topic in modern litigation, and for good reason: it's complicated. I do not know that parties have ever been entirely comfortable with the notion that locating and producing paper documents unfavorable to their adversary is often their adversary's responsibility, and I am fairly sure that any such discomfort is only magnified when the context involves electronic materials. After all, I know many lawyers who could not personally find electronic records on a computer under any circumstances, let alone records that have undergone deletion processes or that may exist only as electronic remnants.

Thorough searches of computer records for relevant, discoverable materials require expert attention. Arguably, the current rules of civil procedure do not account for this need. I suggest that, in the near future, they will.



Wednesday, September 28, 2005
 
CLE Follow-Up: Oral Argument Mistakes
This past month's appellate teleconference CLE covered oral argument mistakes. I hosted the program, and a stellar panel of appellate specialists shared some lessons from OA foibles they had made and seen.

Bob Biasotti was one of our panelists, and he shared some insightful experiences. After we completed the teleconference, though, he mentioned an additional story, and I thought it was as good as any we heard that day. Here it is, advertently paraphrased and with some details left out as a courtesy to the parties involved:

Several years ago, Bob handled a pro bono child custody appeal at the Second District. In the briefs, the attorneys used descriptive labels to refer to the persons involved in the case -- the birth parent, the custodial parent, etc. Bob referred to his own client using more than one of these descriptive terms.

In those days, the Second District did not announce the panel in advance of the argument. Upon arriving at the oral argument, Bob learned that the panel would be presided by Judge Altenbernd, who earlier that year had published a law review article entitled "Quasi-Marital Children." Although the issue on appeal was substantially different from the issues addressed in Judge Altenbernd's article, the article coined the term "functional parent," and that descriptive term arguably applied to Bob's client.

At the argument, Bob used the "functional parent" term for the first time to describe his client. Opposing counsel, at the outset of his responsive argument, essentially told the court that Mr. Biasotti was making up new labels as he went along and did not even know how to refer to his own client. Opposing counsel specifically pointed to Bob's use of the term "functional parent," saying "I don't know where he got that."

Judge Altenbernd replied, "Perhaps he got it from my recent law review article on that subject."
Oops.

Bob points out the moral of the story: if an appellate judge has written a substantive article on a topic that is remotely close to the issue in your appeal, know what is in that article...

 
Storytelling
If you recall this post, you may be glad to know Bob has agreed to let me post the story that got away. I'll try to post it later today.

 
Fifth District: Certiorari
The importance of demonstrating irreparable harm in a certiorari petition is seen in this decision from the Fifth District.

 
Fifth District: Land Use
The conflicts seen in this case from the Fifth District are a good example of what happens when one neighbor wishes to expand the use of its property and another neighbor objects. Perhaps the human foosball court was the final straw.

If you follow the case after remand to the trial court, you will probably get to see a good example of what happens when a neighbor builds something it did not have the right to build -- in this case, a dormitory.

 
Fifth District: Res Judicata
If you're thinking of moving to dismiss a complaint based on res judicata, you might first check out this decision from the Fifth District, and the cases the court relies upon.

 
Fourth District: Adoption
In this case, the Fourth District ultimately affirmed the decision terminating the parental rights of two parents whose child was adopted, but not before examining many of the legal requirements surrounding adoptions and terminations of parental rights.



Tuesday, September 27, 2005
 
Third District: Interrogations 101
Suppose a police officer tells a suspect that his DNA was found on the victim's body, and as a result the suspect confesses. Also suppose the officer lied. Is the confession admissible?

Yes, as the Third District explained in this case.

 
Third District: Disqualification
If a trial judge mistakenly grants a motion to recuse himself or herself, can the judge rehear the motion and correct the mistake? No. As the Third District explained in this decision, once a disqualification order is signed, even if the signature is inadvertent, the judge loses all jurisdiction in the case and cannot vacate that order.

 
Fourth District: Equitable Estoppel
This case from the Fourth District concerns a wife's tort claims against her husband for causing her to contract a disease. The trial court dismissed her claims on statute of limitations grounds, but the appellate court reversed, holding that the wife's equitable estoppel argument could avoid the husband's limitations defense.

 
Fourth District: Duty
Negligence fans will enjoy this recent decision on the duty element. The Fourth District held that an electric utility did not owe an injured person a duty of care related to overhead power lines under the circumstances of the case.

 
Third District: Insureds' Attorney's Fees
In this case, the Third District weighed in on an issue over which the Fourth and Fifth Districts are divided: whether an insured is entitled to appellate attorney's fees where the insured loses an appeal but a new trial will follow. The Third District sided with the Fifth, holding that the insured is not entitled to attorney's fees for an appellate proceeding in which the insured loses, even if the insured may later prevail in the litigation.

 
Questions, questions: Voluntary Searches
In this case, the Fourth District certified the following to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great public importance:
IS AN OTHERWISE UNTAINTED CONSENT TO SEARCH VOLUNTARY WHEN THE CONSENT IS GIVEN WHILE A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION, RETAINS POSSESSION OF DEFENDANT'S DRIVER'S LICENSE?

 
Third District: Insurance Defense
Insurance fans will be interested in this decision from the Third District. Addressing a matter of first impression, the court held that a policy giving an insurer an ambiguous right to defend an insured does not create a duty to defend. Rather, the insurer has the option to defend.

 
Fourth District: Homestead
For an example of when a trial court can force the sale of homestead property to satisfy a financial obligation, check out this family law decision from the Fourth District.



Monday, September 26, 2005
 
Second District: You've Been Smushed
Disciplinary proceedings aside, I do not recall any recent opinion that discredits an attorney's unprofessional closing arguments as much as this opinion does. The prosecutor's tactics obviously disturbed the Second District, which wrote:
We affirm. We write only to comment that, although not rising to the level of fundamental error, the prosecutor's closing argument in this case exceeded the bounds of proper argument. Again, we reiterate the admonition of Judge Blue in his specially concurring opinion in Luce v. State, 642 So. 2d 4 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994): "Trial attorneys must avoid improper argument if the system is to work properly. If attorneys do not recognize improper argument, they should not be in a courtroom. If trial attorneys recognize improper argument and persist in its use, they should not be members of The Florida Bar."

If the prosecutor intends to continue to appear in criminal court, we suggest that he view continuing education videotapes on the subject of closing argument to review arguments that should not be made before a jury. If he persists in disregarding the rules of proper argument, he should expect appropriate sanctions. See Bell v. State, 723 So. 2d 896 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998) (Altenbernd, J., concurring).

Affirmed.
Ouch.

 
Second District: Arbitration
Can a defendant waive the right to arbitrate a dispute if the defendant's attorney is not aware that an applicable arbitration agreement exists?

Yes, explained the Second District in this case.

 
Second District: Rehearing Explained
Just a couple kudos to the Second District for doing what every appellate court should do when modifying a previously released opinion: explain what's changed. As seen in this case, the Second District provides explanations through an order from the clerk's office.

 
First District: Jimmy Ryce, Collateral Relief
Quick: how does a defendant in a Jimmy Ryce proceeding raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim?

If you're looking for a good way to raise such a claim, well, none exists -- something that should be on the radar of the state legislature, the Florida Supreme Court, and I suppose the rules committees. (I won't even start on the question of which one...)

If you're looking for any answer, the First District explains in this decision that, for now, habeas corpus petitions will have to do.

 
Fifth District: Final Orders
Something about this case just cries out to be used in an appellate certification exam.

Let's see if you get the answer right.

A plaintiff sued a defendant for breach of contract, seeking about 30 thousand dollars. The defendant admitted it owed the plaintiff over six thousand dollars, and after a hearing on a partial summary judgment motion the trial court determined about five thousand was owed. The court then entered an order awarding that amount and including "let execution issue" language. The defendant paid the amount indicated and the plaintiff's counsel executed a satisfaction of judgment, which the defendant filed.

When the plaintiff attempted to litigate the case further, the defendant contended that a final judgment had been entered and the case was over. The trial judge agreed the order was a final judgment, although the court had intended it not to be. The plaintiff then filed a rule 1.540 motion to vacate the satisfaction and the final judgment on grounds of mistake. The trial court granted that motion and the defendant appealed.

What happened on appeal? Does this "mistake" qualify for relief under rule 1.540? Assume a significant amount of time had passed between the entry of judgment and the filing of the motion to vacate.

The answer is: the Fifth District reversed. The court expressly distinguished mistakes of law from mistakes of fact with respect to rule 1.540's "mistake" ground.

So watch out for final judgments. It may be advantageous early in a case to obtain a favorable order permitting execution to issue, but the price of that early victory may be unexpectedly high.

 
Second District: Hearsay, Administrative Style
Those interested in administrative matters may wish to check out this decision from the Second District. The opinion concerned the use of hearsay in a UAC proceeding.

 
First District: Rule 1.525
If you are keeping track of the developing case law regarding rule 1.525's 30-day service requirement for attorney's fees motions, check out this decision from the First District.

 
Fifth District: Disqualification
Ethics fans should be interested in this decision from the Fifth District, which addressed an order disqualifying counsel in the context of a derivative action.

 
Fifth District: Preservation of Error
This decision from the Fifth District could serve as a general reminder from appellate counsel to trial counsel: on appeal, we can only argue points that you raised below.



Friday, September 23, 2005
 
Friday Florida Law Trivia Answer
As many know, Article I, section 23 of Florida's constitution sets forth the fundamental right of privacy. Despite the section's broad statement of each person's right to be "let alone," the section concludes by limiting the right in the context of public records.

So, you may have a right not to be forced to divulge some private aspect of your life to state officials, but if state officials know your secret and include it in a public record, you may have a tough time trying to block a citizen's effort to access that record, even if you believe public access to the document violates your privacy right.

 
Friday Florida Law Trivia!
On the late is better than never theory, here's a Friday Florida Law Trivia question. Some will say this is too easy:

What fundamental right do all Floridians have that includes a rather large exception saying the right does not affect the public's ability to inspect public records?

I'll post the answer around 4:45 EDT today.

 
Appellate Procedure
Hey, appellate specialists. How short must your brief be for you to omit a summary of argument?

That's a trick question. A summary of argument is always required under Florida's rules and the Eleventh Circuit's rules.

This order from the Florida Supreme Court shows that our high court is paying attention to the summary requirement.

 
Fourth District: Preservation of Error
Can you be required to preserve an alleged error prior to the release of the case establishing that the event in controversy actually is error? Well, yes, if the general principles predated that decision.

 
Fourth District: Confrontation Clause
Criminal law fans will enjoy the extensive hearsay analysis provided by both sides of this divided opinion from the Fourth District.

Former law review editors may wonder about the inadvertent red-lining but of course would approve the edits.

 
Fourth District: Dog Tales
In the last several months, many appellate practitioners have, in one way or another, happened upon this oral argument audio clip. It's an example of many things, including how to demonstrate a substantial lack of respect for a judicial panel.

If you've listened to the clip, you may recall how the appellant's attorney told the court he hoped it would find a way to distinguish the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Illinois v. Caballes. Caballes held that consent was not necessary for a drug dog to sniff a parked vehicle during a traffic stop. No reasonable expectation of privacy existed.

I bring these matters up because of this recent decision from the Fourth District, where on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court the court reconsidered its pre-Caballes decision in a dog sniff case. The panel concluded that Caballes was distinguishable in that a sniff at the front door of a residence was materially different from a roadside car sniff. I don't suppose that distinction would have worked in the oral argument linked above.

As he did from the court's original decision, Judge Gross dissented. I suppose he could not resist the temptation to close his opinion in this way:
To adopt the majority’s view is to create a novel fourth amendment rule that the propriety of a dog sniff is analyzed differently based on the location of the dog, an approach that the Supreme Court has yet to adopt. In this case, affirming the motion to suppress is an example of the humble tail wagging the constitutional dog.

 
Third District: Prohibition
Just a reminder here from the Third District to trial judges: when an agency is statutorily charged with deciding who is entitled to social services, a court cannot instead make the decision.



Thursday, September 22, 2005
 
Gone Bloggo
You may be familiar with the "Future Lawyer," Rick Georges. His savvy website and columns have been educating lawyers on technology points for years. Now, Rick's gone bloggo, and his Futurelawyer site has taken on a blog format. Great job, Rick!


(My apologies to George Harrison fans...)

 
5DCA: You Too Can View
Some proper respects are due the Fifth District, which this month began broadcasting its oral arguments live on the Internet. I caught part of yesterday's arguments and was glad to see a picture-in-picture format that shows both the attorney arguing and the panel. It also appears the court will archive its arguments and make the archives available online.

Well done. And thanks to Shannon for pointing this out.

 
Schiavo News: DCF Rejection Affirmed
It's been a while since I posted anything regarding the Terri Schiavo saga. At some point, I should update the information on this site. I'll get there.

Meanwhile, I can comment a bit on this opinion, which will likely be the final judicial opinion directly concerning Terri Schiavo. In short, the Second District explained why it affirmed Judge Greer's order preventing the Department of Children and Families from taking Terri into protective custody to reinsert her feeding tube and investigate last-minute "abuse" allegations.

DCF is the state agency charged with protecting children, the disabled, and other vulnerable Floridians. Recall that in Terri's final weeks, DCF attempted to intervene in Terri's case. The agency claimed it had received numerous tips or complaints that Terri had been abused by Michael and that it needed to protect Terri while investigating the abuse allegations.

Judge Greer denied DCF's requests to intervene, and DCF immediately appealed that ruling to the Second District. After expedited briefing, the appellate court issued a brief order affirming Judge Greer's decision and explaining that a written opinion would follow.

The latest opinion is the court's explanation for its decision.

The court essentially reached two conclusions. First, the court determined that compliance with a lawfully entered guardianship court order regarding Terri cannot constitute neglect or abuse. So, to the extent Michael was allegedly abusing Terri by complying with Judge Greer's directives, Michael was not neglecting or abusing Terri.

Second, to the extent other "abuse" was at issue and DCF claimed it needed to take Terri into custody to investigate those claims, the court ruled that DCF never provided any reasonable explanation for why it supposedly needed Terri alive to conduct that investigation. Therefore, Judge Greer properly rejected DCF's intervention efforts.

 
Second District: Double Jeopardy
Do Florida's Rules of Juvenile Procedure permit a trial court to reconsider a decision that the state failed to prove a charged offense? No, said the Second District in this case.



Wednesday, September 21, 2005
 
CLE Post-Script
Many thanks to those who participated in and those who joined yesterday's CLE call. From what I've heard, a splendid time was had by all.

After it was over, Bob recalled a hysterical experience he had in a Second District argument -- one that fully rivals Jane's cookbook story.

Perhaps Bob'll let me post the story here.

And perhaps you'd like to send him an e-mail asking him to let me do it...

 
Second District: Collateral Estoppel
When Judge Canady was appointed to the Second District, I congratulated him and wished him well. He responded with a gracious thanks and told me he was looking forward to some quiet, thoughtful time as a judge with the court.

He sure seems to have found time to think.

In this decision, Judge Canady offers a thorough, interesting analysis of whether the results of an administrative disciplinary proceeding can collaterally estop the state in a subsequent criminal prosecution. The case involved an elementary school principal charged with sexual offenses involving students. At his trial, the state presented similar fact evidence involving a particular child, despite the fact that a prior disciplinary proceeding concluded that no encounters between the principal and that child ever occurred.

Based on the lack of mutuality of parties in the two proceedings, and their different natures, the court concluded that collateral estoppel had no application in the criminal proceeding.

 
Hey, Legislature!
I know the legislature pays attention to judicial suggestions regarding the need for new or changed laws. Perhaps this suggestion from Judge Villanti will influence some regulation of no-knock entries:
To be valid, a no-knock entry must be based upon the particularized exigent circumstances described in the majority opinion. The supervisor directing the execution of the warrant must have almost swami-like powers to get it right, and the supervisor's decision is only as good as the information he is provided. Here, the supervisor's decision to make a no-knock entry was flawed because of his reliance upon incorrect information.

Under current case law, the time frame separating a "good" knock-and-announce case from a "bad" one, as this case demonstrates, can be as little as a few seconds. The majority correctly point to record facts mandating suppression because controlling legal authority holds that due notice was lacking and insufficient officer safety grounds existed to excuse such notice. Perhaps it is time for the legislature to revisit the area of knock and announce with the specific goal of giving officers greater guidelines in an area that is presently defined on only a case-by-case basis.

 
First District: 57.105 Fees Revisited
You may recall this post from last month, where I noted how this decision from the First District strangely seemed to affirm a section 57.105 attorney's fees award based on the existence of controlling authority from another district. The fee issue should turn not on the existence of authority from another district but on whether the sanctioned party made a good faith argument the First District should reach a different result.

The court has now released this clarification of its decision. The court explained that no transcript of the arguments presented below existed, that the sanctioned party's initial brief made no reference to a good faith argument for a change in the law, and that while the reply brief improperly contained such an argument for the first time, the court rejected it as insufficient to show an abuse of discretion.



Monday, September 19, 2005
 
Appellate CLE Teleconference
Appellate folks will hopefully enjoy (and join) tomorrow's installment of the Appellate Practice Section's monthly teleconference CLE program. The topic will be oral arguments, with a focus on mistakes we've made and seen.

After all, learning from your own mistakes is important, but learning from others' mistakes is, well, more fun. And less agonizing.

Some very accomplished appellate specialists will offer us their favorite "lessons learned":

Steve Brannock
Jane Walsh
Tracy Carlin
Bob Biasotti
Lou Hubener
Retired Judge John Blue

and perhaps a surprise speaker or two. I'll be hosting the program, and I'm sure I can come up with a mistake or two of my own. Well, maybe more.

The program starts at 12:10 tomorrow. You can find the call-in information on the section's web site or by clicking here. Attendees will receive an hour of CLE credit.

 
Amended Answer
I was stuck in traffic around the Miami airport on Friday when I posted the trivia question answer from my phone. I'm tempted to edit the answer to fix the missing period, but -- nah. As much as I abhor typos, that one seems almost understandable.

By the way, I don't endorse blogging-while-driving. Especially in Miami.

Getting back to the answer, Justices England, Hatchett, Overton, and Sundberg were appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in the mid-1970s. They were young, very bright, and eager to move the court past the dark days that preceded their time on the state's supreme bench. I will not dwell on the specifics of that earlier time, but for those interested I will note that this Martin Dyckman column from 2002 recounts some of the positives surrounding the transition, and this 1975 decision by the court recounts some of the negatives that fueled the need for change. Careful readers will note Dyckman's presence on the scene 30 years ago, something not mentioned in the 2002 column.

The court today is quite different than it was 30 years ago.

The court's jurisdiction has been narrowed to permit the court's involvement only in cases of statewide importance. My appellate colleagues from other states are often amazed that Florida's supreme court does not have general "certiorari" jurisdiction to review any district court decision.

Justices are no longer elected by the public at large. Instead, for each vacancy, a commission nominates highly qualified candidates and the governor chooses a new justice from among them. This eliminates the danger of a justice being "a politician first, and a justice second," to borrow the words of the previously linked decision.

Also, the state constitution expressly lowers the standard used to disqualify judges below the standard used in the 1970's. Article V, section 12(c)(1) now provides: "Malafides, scienter or moral turpitude on the part of a justice or judge shall not be required for removal from office of a justice or judge whose conduct demonstrates a present unfitness to hold office."

So, to the young bucks who helped right the course of our lead ship, thanks.



Friday, September 16, 2005
 
Friday Florida Trivia Answer
I'm posting this with my Treo while in traffic, so this is a brief answer The young bucks were Justices England, Hatchett, Overton, and Sundberg.

 
Friday Florida Law Trivia!
I'm out of the office today, down in Miami for a firm function. Our program is about to start, and I was wondering aloud what trivia question to post. A friend who happens to be a former Florida Supreme Court law clerk suggested something quite good:

What four justices were together known as the "young bucks"?

I'll post the answer around 4:45 EDT today.



Thursday, September 15, 2005
 
Hey, Legislature!
This 9-page opinion issued yesterday by the Second District would probably have been a PCA were it not for one tiny concern: the case highlights a potential need for statutory regulation of so-called "litigation loans."

So if you're an ambitious state legislator looking to make a difference, consider this case and its message. I'll give a thumbnail sketch.

Victoria Fausone was struck by a dump truck while riding a bicycle. As she pursued a claim, she obtained a series of "litigation loans" from various sources. The loans were not truly loans since they were without recourse -- Fausone was not required to repay the amount paid to her if she did not recover on her claim. However, if she did recover, she was required to pay a figure that continued to escalate as time passed. The escalation rate far exceeded the rate an ordinary lender could lawfully charge for interest. Fausone eventually consolidated her "loans" through an arrangement with U.S. Claims, which in 2001 paid her $30,000.

When Fausone's lawsuit ultimately settled for over $200,000, she was contractually obligated to pay U.S. Claims $50,937. She refused to pay and instead filed a suit to declare the arrangement unconscionable and unenforceable. That suit was stayed while the parties arbitrated their dispute, as required by their arrangement.

The arbitrator awarded U.S. Claims $72,117 -- the amount then due under the escalation provisions. The trial court then confirmed the award, and while Fausone had moved to vacate the award, for some reason she withdrew her motion prior to the confirmation. She then appealed the confirmation, and a reluctant Second District affirmed. The court noted that Fausone's obligation had grown to at least $102,007 and that she owed U.S. Claims attorney's fees for the litigation.

The court did not suggest that the result would have been different had Fausone directly pursued an effort to vacate the award. The court detailed the case's factual background to encourage the legislature to consider regulating this area. The court was sensitive to the monetary needs of injured persons who may not see proceeds from a suit for years and to its own lack of authority to regulate "litigation loan" agreements. The court concluded that "the legislature might wish to examine this industry to determine whether Florida's citizens are in need of any statutory protection."

Public policy concerns aside, the case is also noteworthy for its brief mention of Fausone's representation, or lack thereof:
It is noteworthy that Ms. Fausone has not been assisted by a lawyer in the arbitration proceeding, in the action for declaratory relief, or in this appeal. Throughout these proceedings, the documents reflect that she has been assisted by a nonlawyer, Joyce L. Potkay of "Cheaper than a Lawyer" in Holiday, Florida. Ms. Potkay may be cheaper than a lawyer, but she certainly has been no substitute for one.

 
Second District: Proposed Judgments
For a thorough review on the recent spate of cases about the circumstances under which a trial court can enter, verbatim, a party's proposed judgment, check out this decision from the Second District.

 
First District: Rule 1.442
The First District observed in this case that rule 1.442's apportionment requirement required an irrational apportionment of liability among two equally liable defendants. The court urged the Florida Supreme Court to revisit the rule.



Wednesday, September 14, 2005
 
Graffiti BOLO
If you own property in Martin County, be on the lookout for graffiti on your property. If code enforcement officials find it, they'll give you 10 days to clean it up, or they'll clean it up themselves and send you the bill.

Read about it in this story in today's Sun-Sentinel.

 
Gambling Update
If you're looking for an update on the South Florida slots situation, and particularly the efforts in Tallahassee to pass legislation on the matter, check out this story in today's News-Press.

 
Fourth District: Intertwined Claims
Quick quiz for appellate folks: does an appellate court review de novo or for an abuse of discretion a trial court's decision, for purposes of an attorney's fees award, that a plaintiff's claims are either intertwined or separate and distinct?

If you answered abuse of discretion, this decision from the Fourth District will set you straight.

 
Fourth District: Time of the Essence
Transactional folks, this decision from the Fourth District reminds us that time can become of the essence even if the parties' contract does not contain that language.

If one party is not in default and the other is in default, the non-defaulting party can give notice that time is now of the essence and performance is due within a stated time, so long as the time allowed is a reasonable amount.

 
Fifth District: Work Product
If you list your investigators as trial witnesses, have you negated the work product privilege that ordinarily attaches to their work? Yes, said the Fifth District in this case.

What if you do that, and the trial court denies your effort to protect the investigators from being deposed -- can you then amend your witness list to remove the investigators and thereby restore the work product protection? Yes again, said the Fifth District in the same decision.

Interstingly, the decision includes no discussion of waiver and whether work product protection, once lost, is lost forever. Perhaps the parties did not argue such issues.

 
Third District: Reservations of Rights
Insurance fans may wish to check out this decision. The facts are a bit involved. Here's the nutshell version:

The insured requested coverage and a defense in a personal injury case. In a letter, the insurer reserved its rights to deny coverage based on possible defenses but offered to provide the insured a defense. The insured responded with a letter taking the position the insurer had denied coverage and declaring that the insured would do what it must to reduce its exposure. The insurer then notified the insured that the reservation of rights was not a denial of coverage and that the insurer was willing to provide the insured with a defense.

The insured then settled the claim against it for $1 million and proceeded to sue the insurer for bad faith. The trial court granted the insurer summary judgment under the policy's cooperation clause based on the insured's settlement.

The Third District reversed. The court held that the reservation of rights entitled the insured to defend itself, without breaching the cooperation clause, if the insured actually rejected the insurer's offer to defend under a reservation of rights. The court concluded that a question of fact existed on that issue.

Judge Schwartz authored a pithy dissent and would have held that the insured clearly breached the cooperation clause.

 
Third District: Tax Sales
If you're interested in the competing priorities of liens that survive a tax sale, including whether an injunction favoring a government agency qualifies as a government lien, check out this decision from the Third District.

 
Third District: 57.105 Fees
The standard of review for an order granting section 57.105 fees is abuse of discretion, but reversals do happen, on occasion. Take this case from the Third District as an example.

 
Third District: Goverment Employee Subpoenas
Here is an example of an appropriate use of a writ of prohibition.

The Third District prohibited a circuit court from requiring three state agency employees to comply with a subpoena duces tecum. Apparently, the respondent wanted the state employees to testify regarding, and bring documents supporting, the agency's decision to deny a person services.

 
Fourth District: Arbitration
Arbitration fans may recall the Fourth District's earlier release of this decision, which the court released in amended form last week.

The court offered no explanation of what it amended, and in glancing over the decision, I didn't pick up the changes. (There are some -- the majority's decision is a bit longer.)

The case remains noteworthy for its ultimate conclusion: that an alternative dispute resolution provision in a construction contract "went down with the whole" when one party opted to terminate the entire agreement. As the majority explained:

The contract’s ADR system was like the rifle shot before the nuclear bomb. If only rifles were being fired, final completion was still possible. But the owner chose the nuclear option of total war rather than the contract’s system of less drastic, alternative resolution. Once the nuclear bomb was dropped, any resolution was not for this contract’s ADR meant to avoid total war.
Judge Gunther dissented.



Monday, September 12, 2005
 
Third District: YPCA
Ok, I made that up. There's no such thing as a YPCA, though such a term might be applicable to decisions like this one from the Third District. The decision was essentially a PCA with a very brief explanation.

The entire opinion reads:
After careful review we can find no reason to reverse the trial court's order.
That the appellant was pro se probably explains why the court chose to say anything at all.

 
Every Breath You Take...
Sometimes the most interesting part of a case is its facts, not the law involved. Take this case, for instance, which describes how cell phone records helped convict a woman of killing her husband. The opinion's recitation of the facts includes the following:

Prior to disposing of the body, Cousins used Sean’s cell phone to call her own cell phone. Phone records confirm that Cousins never left her home while the calls were made. Koile and Bakovic drove Sean’s body to Osceola County, where they dumped it in a creek. Phone records also showed that Koile and Cousins communicated many times the morning of Tuesday, May 8, 2001. The cell tower records showed that Koile was moving from Palm Beach County, through Martin, Indian River, Brevard and into Osceola County and back. Sean’s body was found in an Osceola County creek.
These events took place in May 2001, which means that for a few years now, your location while making cell phone calls is not only traceable but recorded.

By the way, the jury found the defendant guilty only of manslaughter.

 
Second District: Gifts
The husband in this case wrote his wife a note saying he wished to give her all of his property "in the event of death or separation." When the couple divorced, the wife claimed entitlement to the huband's extensive pre-marital assets (he was a former Major League Baseball player) based on the note.

The trial court determined that the husband gifted his assets to his wife. The Second District disagreed. The "gift" here was conditional, which is not a gift at all.

 
Fourth District: Dangerous Conditions
Throwing rocks onto a sidewalk when you know a rollerblader may ride by and be injured by them can be actionable negligence, the Fourth District held in this case. The court likened the situation to one examined in a prior case, where a homeowner's lawn sprinkler sprayed the street with water and obstructed a driver's windshield. In both cases, the plaintiff alleged a valid claim that the defendant created a dangerous condition.

So don't mess with the street. Or the sidewalk, for that matter.

 
Second District: Estates Claims
Trusts and estates fans may be interested in this decision from the Second District. The court considered whether a woman whose joints accounts with the decedent were taken out of her name by forged documents was required to file a timely claim with the decedent's estate. She was, and she didn't.

 
Fourth District: Eminent Domain
Real property fans will enjoy this decision. The Fourth District reversed a trial court's decision excluding expert testimony on "property blight" or "condemnation blight," which would have shown how the property's value had been negatively affected by condemnation plans.

 
Second District: Testimonial Hearsay
Confrontation Clause fans may enjoy this decision from the Second District. The court ordered a new trial on various drug convictions because the state admitted an FDLE report (as a business record) without complying with Crawford v. Washington. Crawford requires that testimonial hearsay be admitted in the declarant's absence only if the declarant is unavailable and the defendant had a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine the declarant.

In the case, the declarant was an FDLE employee who tested the substances at issue in the case. He had since taken a job with the FBI in Virginia, and the state was reluctant to fly him back to Florida for the trial merely to affirm the contents of his report. In retrospect, the state was a bit too reluctant.

 
Fourth District: Disgorging Attorney's Fees
An attorney ordered to remit half of the fees he received from his client in a family law case (because the client had not met his support obligations and had left the country) successfully petitioned the Fourth District to quash that order in this case.

 
Fourth District: Criminal Bifurcation
In this case, the Fourth District reminds us that criminal offenses with no causal link should not be tried together.



Friday, September 09, 2005
 
And then...
So much for "later" yesterday. I'll just say that the Marriott at the Tampa Airport really needs wireless Internet access, and Steve Brannock not only won an interesting case last week, he and his wife host a heck of a dinner.



Thursday, September 08, 2005
 
If You're Reading This...
...then in all likelihood you're not at The Florida Bar's general meetings today in Tampa. That's where I'm headed. I'll be back to posting later today.



Wednesday, September 07, 2005
 
Thanks
A friend who was forced to evacuate New Orleans has asked me to pass along thanks to Florida -- yes, all of Florida -- for the generosity pouring out of this state towards those affected by Katrina.

I'm not sure this site is the best means to disseminate that message broadly, but I've no doubt that a few folks reading this page are some of those most deserving of thanks.

 
Undebaitable
I've posted a few times now on something I call "issue baiting" -- the process of proposing constitutional amendments not for their own merits but to draw voters to the polls who, while they're there, will support the candidates you like.

A conservative group might propose a controversial conservative amendment to draw out conservative voters who, while they're there, will vote for conservative candidates. A liberal group might propose a controversial liberal amendment to draw out liberal voters who will vote for liberal candidates.

Mark Lane, a columnist for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, picked up on the notion and wrote about it this past weekend in this column. Mark decided to tweak the term to "ballot bait," which is certainly more alliterative.

I'm honored.

 
First District: Workers' Compensation Discovery
This is perhaps the most interesting workers' compensation case I've seen in a long time. A pretrial order required an exchange of discovery within 30 days of trial. The employer/carrier's counsel disclosed surveillance tapes 21 days before the trial, having just received them. The claimant objected that the tapes were "untimely" and "unjustly prejudicial." The judge excluded them as not timely disclosed.

The First District reversed. The court held that evidence should be excluded for being untimely exchanged only under "the most compelling circumstances" and when the trial court has made a case-specific finding of procedural prejudice. (I suppose it's safe to say "unjust prejudice" won't do.)

Judge Benton dissented. He considered the trial judge's ruling to have been sufficiently case-specific, being based on the employer/carrier offering no good reason why the tapes could not have been timely disclosed. Judge Benton concluded his dissent with this language:

The majority opinion makes even deliberate disregard of the judge's discovery cutoff order something that may work to the offending party’s advantage; and the starting point for further litigation: a mini-trial in which the party who has conscientiously complied with the order has the burden to prove that his opponent's intentional noncompliance was not harmless. The presumption should go the other way. In preparing their cases, parties should be able to count on corresponding compliance by opposing parties. With all respect due generally rational counsel, today's decision leaves the "inmates" firmly in charge of the "asylum."

 
First District: Special Laws
If you have ever seen the legislature adopt a law that by all appearances could only apply to a particular person or area in the state, and if you wondered whether they could do that, then you may wish to check out this decision from the First District.

The court held a parimutuel law unconstitutional because it was a special law that was not enacted through the constitutional procedure applicable to special laws. The law prohibited only certain thoroughbred horse racing permit holders from conducting intertrack wagering. The court concluded that the law applied only to a set of Miami-Dade/Broward area thoroughbred racing permit holders and that similar conditions would not reasonably ever exist again, anywhere in the state.

 
Second District: Appellate Procedure, Land Use
Appellate fans may be interested in this case from the Second District for its application of second-tier certiorari review and its discussion of what makes a decision quasi-judicial, as opposed to quasi-legislative.

Land use fans may be interested in the case for its substance. The court quashed a trial court order that quashed a city council's decision to allow a telecommunications tower on city property.

 
First District: 57.105 Fees
This case reached some noteworthy holdings regarding section 57.105 -- the statute allowing judges to assess one side with the other side's attorney's fees where litigation is wholly or partly frivolous. Well, ok, "frivolous" is not the standard, but you get the point.

Bear in mind that the legislature changed section 57.105 in 1999, making it less difficult to demonstrate that the other side's position was so lacking in support that you should be awarded your attorney's fees.

The court concluded that a 57.105 motion for fees under the pre-1999 version of the statute (which presented a high burden for receiving a fee award) was itself subject to a section 57.105 fee motion under the post-1999 version of the statute -- a reverse frivolous litigation claim. (That's sort of like suing for abuse of process based on your opponent's abuse of process claim.) The appellate court ruled that the original motion was sufficiently without support that the later motion should have been granted.

The court also held that an attorney could be compensated at his or her own rates for the time spent defending a meritless section 57.105 fee claim, "even if the award results in a windfall."

 
Second District: Open and Obvious Dangers
Premises liability fans may be interested in this decision. The Second District provides another example of how the "open and obvious danger" defense may negate a property owner's duty to warn of a dangerous condition but will generally not negate the owner's duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

 
First District: Class Action Settlements
This decision from the First District points out that once a trial court approves a class action settlement agreement, the court cannot unilaterally rewrite the agreement's terms.

 
First District: Sentencing
Generally, sentences should be pronounced by the judge who presided over the trial or accepted a defendant's plea. Not so, however, in the case of a violation of probation, as the First District explained in this case.



Tuesday, September 06, 2005
 
Judge Tom Clark
Judge Tom Clark passed away on Sunday. President Carter nominated him in 1979 to what was then the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Two years later, when that court split to create the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Clark became a founding member of the new court. He took senior status in 1991.

A service will be held this Saturday in Atlanta.

Judge Clark is remembered particularly well at my firm, Carlton Fields. He joined the firm in 1962 and was a leader of its litigation group in Tampa during his nearly two decades of service here. Many here remember him very well and with great admiration.

 
Fifth District: Duty and Foreseeability
If you follow Florida's common law tort system, you probably appreciate that Florida's case law recognizes duties of care based on foreseeability alone. That approach has been much criticized on historical, logical, and practical grounds. This 2004 article from the Florida Bar Journal offers some pointed commentary.

On Friday, the Fifth District released this decision denying rehearing in a case where the court recognized a private landowner's duty not to allow foliage on his or her property to obstruct motorists' views at an adjacent intersection.

In other words, the court concluded that a property owner will be responsible for injuries caused on an adjacent roadway if the accident is caused in part by obstructive landscaping on the owner's property. Better watch those shrubs.

As she did with the court's original decision, Judge Griffin dissented. This time, though, she pointed to the American Law Institute's latest draft for the Third Restatement of the Law on Torts. Judge Griffin found nothing in the work to support imposing liability on the defendants, and much that's inconsistent with Florida law regarding duty.

Judge Griffin found hope, though, in the notion that the new draft restatement on the nation's tort law might influence Florida to revisit its duty analysis as it applies to property owners such as the defendants in the case. She ended her dissent with the notion, "[P]erhaps the re-articulation of tort law as reflected in the new draft Restatement frees us all to begin the debate anew."

 
Fifth District: Drivers Licenses, Unveiled
Florida law requires each driver's license to contain a color photograph or digital image of the licensee. Does enforcement of that requirement with respect to a Muslim woman wishing to wear a veil violate Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act? No, said the Fifth District in this decision. The court found no substantial burden on the woman's religious beliefs. (Note that the 2005 version of FRFRA expressly does not apply to drivers' licenses and the photo requirement.)

 
Fifth District: Tax Deed Sales
Those interested in the due process issues involved in tax deed sales should check out the Fifth District's decision in this case.

The court concluded that the clerk and tax collector complied with Florida's statutory laws regarding notice that a property would be sold for failure to pay taxes. However, under the circumstances of the case, the court found that the statutorily sufficient notice failed to satisfy federal constitutional due process standards for meaningful notice and an opportunity to present objections.

Sitting en banc, the court receded from a prior decision on the due process issue and certified conflict with another district's decision finding due process satisfied under similar circumstances.

 
Fifth District: Wrongful Death Damages
What sort of life expectancy evidence will suffice for a spouse's claim in a wrongful death case? In this case, the Fifth District concluded that the minimal level of evidence is, in fact, quite low.

 
Fifth District: Sentencing
Here, the Fifth District reminds us that where an appellate court orders a defendant to be resentenced, the trial court lacks jurisdiction to do so until the appellate court issues its mandate.

 
Fifth District: Anders Expansion
If you're keeping track of circumstances in which an appellant's appointed counsel who believes no reversible error exists must nonetheless file a brief detailing anything that could support a claim of error, you can add one more situation to the list.

In this case, the Fifth District held that the well-known Anders v. California procedure should be applied where counsel believes no meritorious grounds exist to appeal an order placing a child in residential treatment.

 
Fifth District: Corpus Delicti
Rules, rules, rules. The corpus delicti rule holds that the state has the burden of proving a crime was actually committed before a defendant's confession can be admitted as evidence. The preservation of error rule requires that an alleged error be raised with the lower court before a reviewing court will consider the point on appeal.

In this case, the Fifth District shows us which rule wins when the two clash.

 
Fifth District: NICA
Those following Florida's NICA case law may wish to check out this recent decision, where the Fifth District rejected a vagueness challenge to the law.

 
Fifth District: Transcripts
Where the lack of a transcript makes it impossible to determine what evidence or reasons led a trial court to reach a particular result, appellate courts affirm the order on review -- just like the Fifth District did in this case.

 
Fifth DCA Blitz
It seems like the folks in Daytona have recently issued a number of noteworthy opinions. So here comes a blog blitz on them...



Friday, September 02, 2005
 
Friday Florida Law Trivia Answer
This week's question had a small trick to it. The listed holidays are all "legal holidays" as set forth in section 683.01. However, Mardi Gras is not always a legal holiday. Under the statute, Mardi Gras is only a legal holiday "in counties where carnival associations are organized for the purpose of celebrating the same." I imagine there are some Panhandle counties that celebrate Mardi Gras, though I don't know that for sure.

You may be asking yourself what the significance may be of a legal holiday. Are the courts closed on legal holidays? Well, yes and no. Judge Altenbernd included some interesting musings on this subject in this 2002 decision. It's an interesting read, especially over a long weekend.

 
Friday Florida Law Trivia!
Surely this will be a somber holiday weekend, given the calamity still unfolding all along the Gulf Coast region. Here's a holiday-related question:

Which of the following is not an annual legal holiday in Florida?

Flag Day
Jefferson Davis's birthday
Mardi Gras
Confederate Memorial Day
Farmers' Day

Good luck. I'll post the answer around 4:45 EDT today.

 
Constitutional Cafeteria: Marriage and Sales Tax Exemptions
Yesterday, the Attorney General forwarded four proposed constitutional amendments to the Florida Supreme Court for review.

One concerns gay marriage and, if passed, would limit marriage in Florida to a union between one man and one woman.

The other three concern Florida's sales tax exemptions. The first would require a comprehensive review of Florida's sales tax exemptions, eliminating them where they do not serve a "public purpose." Another would require the legislature to conduct periodic review of sales tax exemptions. The third would place restrictions on the manner in which new sales tax exemptions are enacted.

 
Fifth District: Appellate Attorney's Fees
Can a party receive an attorney's fees award on appeal merely because its fee motion was not timely opposed by a written objection? What if the movant has no legal right to fees? The Fifth District addressed that situation in this case involving a circuit court appellate fee award. Apparently, objections were made at a hearing before the circuit court, and written objections were made outside the 10-day response period following submission of the motion.

 
Fifth District: Medical Records
Law enforcement can obtain medical records for criminal investigations, but Florida law requires that particular procedures be followed to obtain such records. This case from the Fifth District illustrates what happens when those procedures are not followed.

 
Fourth District: Bad Faith
Insurance folks may be greatly interested in this decision. An insurer defending a bad faith action attempted to discover communications between the plaintiff and his attorney in an effort to prove the plaintiff and his counsel rejected a policy limits tender to set the insurer up for the bad faith claim. The trial court compelled production, but the Fourth District reversed.

The district court concluded that the plaintiff's and his attorney's motivation in rejecting the settlement offer were not elements of the bad faith claim. There is no discussion concerning the claim's causation element.

 
Fourth District: Preservation of Evidence
Anyone interested in the circumstances under which a criminal defendant can claim constitutional injustice from the state's failure to collect and preserve potentially exculpatory evidence may wish to check out this decision from the Fourth District.

The case involved a "nanny cam" that parents used to catch a nanny in what apparently looked like child abuse. The "abuse" footage was preserved, but over 70 hours of additional footage was not. The district court reversed the trial court's decision to suppress the preserved portion.

 
Fourth District: Arbitration
Arbitration remains a hot appellate topic. The Fourth District recently released two more arbitration decisions.

First, in this case, the court reminded us that litigating a case can constitute a waiver of a right to arbitrate.

More significantly, in this case, the court explored the distiction between when an arbitration agreement is unenforceable as contrary to public policy and when an agreement is unenforceable as unconscionable.

The court found two provisions in the contract at issue to be contrary to public policy, but the court found the provisions severable and held the arbitrator should simply not enforce them.

The court's unconscionability discussion was particularly noteworthy. Rejecting an argument that it was procedurally unconscionable for the only company offering a specific product to demand certain terms in the parties' agreement, the court explained:

We agree with VoiceStream that a ruling on this point in the Dealers' favor would be far reaching for businesses that come up with new products or services that their competition has yet to offer. Where the manner in which the Dealers executed the contract does not support a finding of procedural unconscionability, we decline to hold that the fact that VoiceStream was the only provider of a certain technology that the Dealers sought to utilize for their commercial undertaking requires a finding of procedural unconscionability.
It bears emphasis that the case involved commercial entities. We'll have to wait for another case to see whether or when the same reasoning will apply where one or both parties are individuals.

 
Fourth District: Workers' Compensation Immunity
Bzzz.

The workers' compensation system was designed to provide a no-fault means to care for and compensate those who suffer job-related injuries. The statutory scheme trades immunity from law suits for the faultless imposition of liability against employers and their insurance carriers in the context of a regulated compensation system.

In the wake of the Florida Supreme Court's decision in Aguilera v. Inservices, Inc., can a plaintiff overcome a workers' compensation insurer's (or an employer's) immunity simply by alleging that the defendant did whatever it did with the intent to harm the plaintiff?

Let's say someone pleads that, following a work-related accident, she received massage therapy for years to prevent dangerous seizures and that a workers' compensation carrier discontinued funding for that therapy with the intent to injure her. Is that enough, or is more required? What if the carrier sent a letter to the plaintiff's doctor (who was prescribing the massage therapy) threatening him with penalties that the workers' compensation system no longer utilizes? You can get an answer from this decision by the Fourth District.

Expect cases like this to be much discussed in the next legislative session. There's a buzz in the air.

 
Fourth District: Nonexistent Crimes
Florida law defines second degree murder in this way: "The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual."

Note the last part. Without any premeditated design to cause death.

Solicitation is, not surprisingly, the crime of asking or encouraging someone to commit a crime with the intent that the other person commit the crime.

So here's the question: can you solicit someone to commit second degree murder? Hmmm. That was the question presented to the Fourth District in this case. The court based its answer -- no -- on the particular facts of the case, not a general view that solicitation to commit second degree murder can never exist.

Interesting case.

 
Fourth District: Probate Claims
Is a personal injury action a contingent claim for which an estate need not give actual notice? Personal representatives (and of course their counsel) may be interested in the Fourth District's decision in this case.

 
Questions, questions: Ineffective Assistance
In this case, the Fourth District certified the following to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great public importance:

WHETHER ALLEGATIONS OF AFFIRMATIVE MISADVICE BY TRIAL COUNSEL ON THE SENTENCE-ENHANCING CONSEQUENCES OF A DEFENDANT’S PLEA FOR FUTURE CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR IN AN OTHERWISE FACIALLY SUFFICIENT MOTION ARE COGNIZABLE AS AN INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL CLAIM.



Thursday, September 01, 2005
 
Like Life...
Law goes on. So I'm going to get back to some heavy posting starting late tonight. I'm also going to have a trivia question up tomorrow. I'm looking for one with sort of a cajun flavor...





 
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