highlighted lease agreementIn the recent case of Bold MLP, LLC v. Smith, et al., the First District Court of Appeal in Florida decided an issue involving the interpretation of a property lease. The plaintiff purchased property located in Pensacola that was subject to a lease. Shortly after the plaintiff received the first rent payment as the new owner of the property, the relationship between the plaintiff and its tenants turned sour. The plaintiff moved to terminate the lease, which resulted in a lawsuit.

The trial court initially entered a declaratory judgment in favor of the tenants, finding that the lease was enforceable. The plaintiff appealed, asserting a number of arguments. One of its main arguments before the First District was that the trial court did not interpret the rent provision of the lease correctly. The lease agreement provided that the monthly rent will be $800 for the first year, $875 for the second year, and $950 for the third year. It also included a three-year renewal provision, which the tenants chose to exercise. Providing no reasoning behind this decision, the trial court concluded that the monthly rent for the renewal period would be fixed at $950 per month.

The plaintiff pointed to Florida precedent stating that “where the lease is silent on the issue of rent in the renewal, then there is not a binding agreement and meeting of the minds.” Based on this, the plaintiff asked the appellate court to invalidate the entire lease agreement because it failed to provide a rental rate. This would allow the plaintiff to evict the tenants and to avoid the three-year renewal option.

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In Jordan v. Nienhuis, the plaintiff was the personal representative of a man who died. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against the defendant in his capacity as a Sheriff in Hernando County. According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that a 911 operator was negligent in responding to a call requesting medical help.phone

The trial court concluded that the Sheriff did not owe a duty to the decedent and dismissed the case with prejudice. When an action is dismissed with prejudice, it means the plaintiff cannot refile the lawsuit. The plaintiff appealed.

In reviewing the trial court’s order granting the Sheriff’s motion to dismiss, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal reviewed the allegations in the complaint. The facts are as follows. According to the plaintiff, the decedent suffered a medical emergency that prevented him from breathing normally. His wife contacted 911, and the 911 operator told the wife that help was on the way. The decedent eventually stopped breathing and lost consciousness. After informing the 911 operator of this, the operator told the wife to leave him there and wait for EMS assistance, which arrived shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the man passed away.

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condo from groundIn CRP II – Miramar, LLC v. The French Quarters Condominium Owner’s Association, the First District Court of Appeal considered a case involving an appeal between condominium owners. The plaintiff, Miramar, was developing a new phase of a mixed-use development. The defendant, French Development, owned a property adjacent to the development site. The two companies signed an “Easement and Maintenance Agreement.” As part of the agreement, Miramar agreed to construct a swimming pool and other amenities on its property that would be available to residents at both condominiums. In exchange for this promise, French agreed to share in the maintenance cost of these improvements. The parties also agreed to assign the rights and obligations of the agreement to their respective homeowners’ associations.

Miramar did not construct the pool and additional improvements. It told French instead that market conditions, contractor issues, and financing matters rendered the project undoable. French’s homeowners’ association sued Miramar. During that lawsuit, Miramar forfeited its ownership of the property in a foreclosure proceeding. The homeowners’ association joined the new owner as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In its complaint, the homeowners’ association alleged two causes of action. First, it sought a declaratory judgment that the agreement between French and Miramar constituted a covenant running with the land, meaning the new owner that obtained title through foreclosure was bound by the agreement. The second count alleged that the new owner and Miramar breached the agreement by failing to construct the pool and additional improvements.

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jury during trialA recent Florida appellate case illustrates the dramatic impact that social media can have on litigation. In Murphy v. Roth, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident. The issues of whether the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s damages and the amount that the plaintiff was entitled to receive as compensation, if anything, were hotly contested. During trial, the plaintiff asserted that her vehicle was struck in the rear “by a phantom vehicle,” which caused her car to swerve. She lost control and then was hit by the defendant’s vehicle and forced off the road.

The defendant refuted this by saying that the plaintiff’s vehicle collided with his vehicle on the rear passenger side, forcing his car to the right. Then, the plaintiff’s car struck the front right side of his car, which caused him to spin off the roadway.

Voir dire is a process in a trial that is used to select jurors. During the procedure, both parties have an opportunity to ask jurors questions and object to any jurors being on the final jury panel. Objections can be based on biases, but the parties each have a number of objections they can make without having to give an explanation as to why they would like to remove that prospective juror.

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hand with moneyIn Berger v. Berger, a wife in a divorce proceeding filed an appeal after a lower court amended a final judgment in the couple’s marriage dissolution. The husband initiated the divorce proceeding after the couple had been married for 18 years. When the trial began, the husband was a full-time doctor earning over $200,000 per year. The wife was a stay-at-home mom who had not been employed in a job outside the home for more than two decades. Evidence at trial indicated that at the time the husband filed the divorce proceeding, the wife started seeking employment in various capacities earning $10 to $12 per hour.

During trial, a vocational expert testifying on behalf of the husband stated that the wife held a college degree in social work but that she was no longer professionally qualified to find work in that field. Although the wife testified that she was interested in finding employment, she stated that the job schedule would need to be flexible because she provided care for the couple’s minor children. The expert testified that his research concluded that the wife could earn between $18 and $20 working at retail or clerical positions. He also offered evidence about other positions for which the wife might be qualified and the amount of compensation that each provided.

In its final judgment, the lower court held that the wife could earn a starting salary as a teacher of $39,000 with benefits after two years of education and substitute teaching. It also listed the wife’s reasonable monthly income needs as totaling $6,000 per month. Ultimately, it awarded the wife $4,500 in alimony per month for 10 years.

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cabinet water damageIn the recent case of Prepared Insurance Company v. Gal, the plaintiff appealed a lower court’s decision regarding a real estate contract and the liabilities associated with it. The insured was a homeowner who discovered that his kitchen sink leaked water, which caused damage to his custom-made cabinets. The insured filed a claim with the insurance company, which sent an adjuster to assess the damage. The report concluded that the cost to fix the cabinets would be $8,653.47, but this estimate did not include the general contractor’s overhead and profit.

A cabinetry expert also assessed the damage at the request of the insurer. He concluded that it would cost roughly $2,500 to fix the damage or almost $20,000 to replace the cabinets.  This cost estimate did not include the price of an electrician or plumber, who would both be necessary to finish the job. It also omitted the estimated cost for hiring a general contractor.

The insurance company tendered payment for $6,153.47 to the insured, reflecting an $8,653.27 cost less the insured’s deductible. The insured sued, claiming the insurer undervalued the damage because it did not pay for the replacement of the cabinets or the cost of a general contractor. In the meantime, the insured filed another claim for damage to the cabinets caused by a leaking air conditioner unit. The insured had a general contractor inspect the loss. This expert testified that the replacement of the cabinets would cost $107,902.50, due to their unique nature. This estimate failed to apportion the damage between the first leak and the second leak.

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witness statement closeupIn Selton, et al. v. Nelson, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals considered a hotly contested discovery issue. The plaintiffs filed a petition seeking a writ of certiorari to quash a lower court’s order compelling the plaintiffs to produce copies of sworn witness statements to the defendants. Certiorari is a remedy of last resort that a party can use to obtain review from a higher court during the pendency of a trial. An appellate court can grant a party’s request only when certain elements have been satisfied. First, the petitioner must show that there is a departure from the key requirements of the law, that a material injury would result that would affect the remainder of the litigation, and that the error is not something that could be addressed on appeal after the trial concludes.

The Fifth Circuit first stated its reasoning for granting the plaintiff’s petition for certiorari. In situations in which one party is being compelled to produce documents or information to another party, and the party that must produce the documents asserts a claim of privilege against production, certiorari is the appropriate method for review. A claim of privilege can be based either on the attorney-client privilege doctrine or the attorney work product doctrine. The party who resists production may suffer irreversible prejudice if he or she is required to share the information over his or her objection. Essentially, the party would be letting the “cat out of the bag.”

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divorced coupleIn Saucier v. Nowak, the father of a child appealed a lower court’s ruling that the majority of timesharing in a custody agreement should be awarded to the child’s mother. In his appeal, the father asserted several grounds of error on the trial court’s part. First, the father stated that the trial court failed to establish a schedule for video conferencing in the final judgment, failed to ascribe the correct salary to the father when determining the award of child support, failed to clarify which parent had the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the child, and failed to assign the majority of the timesharing allotment to the father.

The mother also filed an appeal regarding the final order, stating that the lower court committed a reversible error when it awarded the father the right to engage in daily video conferences with the child and failed to determine whether the father owed back child support.

On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s order when it awarded the father video conferencing time each day in the amount of 45 minutes. Although it was clear that the lower court wanted to award this right to the father, it failed to include a specific schedule for conducting the calls in its final order. The appellate court deemed this a discrepancy and remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings to amend the final order.

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movie theater seatIn Simmons v. Rave Motion Pictures Pensacola, LLC, the plaintiff attended a movie at a movie theater. During that visit, the seat in which he was sitting broke as the result of a failure of the welding on the bottom of the seat. The plaintiff fell through the seat and struck the floor, sustaining injuries. The plaintiff required surgery to address the injuries that he suffered during this accident. In his complaint, the plaintiff sued a number of entities, including the movie theater company and various construction companies that installed the seating equipment.

The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, claiming that the seat was not a product according to product liability law. Instead, the defendants argued that the chair should be categorized as an improvement to real property. Under this interpretation, strict liability would not apply. According to Florida product liability law, a product manufacturer is liable for any injuries that are the result of a design defect or manufacturing defect of its product. Unlike a negligence action, the plaintiff does not need to show carelessness or fault.

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house with magnifierIn the recent case of Marcinkiewicz v. Quattrocchi, the Third District Court of Appeals considered a case involving a property deed. The facts of the case are as follows. In 2007, the son had moved to Hawaii from Miami to move into the house where his mother was living, which is the property at issue in this case. The son moved to Miami with the understanding that he would be taking care of his mother and that she would someday give him ownership of the house. In 2009, the mother vacated the house and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. The son continued living in the property. The mother continued to pay for expenses associated with the property while the son lived there. However, the son acquired tenants at the property and collected rent for their occupancy.

In 2010, the mother was declared legally incompetent, requiring the creation of a guardianship over her assets. Her daughter served as the guardian. The guardianship over her property was dissolved two years later, while a limited guardianship over her person persisted. This limited guardianship provided the daughter with the right to decide her mother’s medical treatment and location of residence.

Roughly one year later, the mother provided a property deed to her son-in-law instead of deeding the property to her son. The mother reportedly visited her attorney and requested that a quitclaim deed for the home be provided to the son-in-law. During trial, the son-in-law claimed he had no knowledge of the mother’s intention to do this.

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