The Week In Torts – Cases from January 13, 2023
Arbitration is taking over
FLORIDA LAW WEEKLY
VOLUME 48, NUMBER 2
CASES FROM THE WEEK OF JANUARY 13, 2023
TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION, IN A CASE WHERE A CHILD AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL COMMITTED SUICIDE UPON BEING ASKED TO LEAVE THE SCHOOL FOR SELLING A VAPE PEN TO ANOTHER STUDENT.
Calvary Chapel Church v. Wilson, 48 Fla. L. Weekly D73 (Fla. 4th DCA Jan. 4, 2023):
The plaintiffs sued the school for wrongful death after their 13-year old son committed suicide following the school’s request that he withdraw for selling a vape pen to another student. The complaint alleged the school violated its own policies and procedures, and that it had a common law duty to assess and provide suicide prevention and crisis support to a student who had been disciplined.
The complaint further alleged that the school was negligent for failing to conduct a full investigation, and in imposing a punishment that had no basis in the defendant’s policies and procedures. At least 20 of the complaint’s allegations implicated the school’s investigation of the incident, and the appropriateness of its disciplinary measures.
The school moved to dismiss the complaint or in the alternative to compel arbitration pursuant to the enrollment contract which the plaintiff had signed when the child was admitted to the school. That contract provided that in the event of a disagreement with the school or a legal claim against it, the parent agreed to address any such agreement or claim through the process of conflict resolution including Christian mediation and binding arbitration as outlined in the Parent Student handbook.
The handbook also contained a section prohibiting vape pens, and provided that a student’s possession or use of one would immediately result in suspension and probation and cause the enrollment to be terminated.
In assessing whether a dispute is required to proceed in arbitration, the trial court must ask: (1) whether a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists; (2) whether an arbitrable issue exists; and (3) whether the right to arbitration was waived.
The only issue before the court was whether the plaintiff’s claim created an “arbitrable issue” under the enrollment contract.
The court explained that the answer to the question depends on whether an arbitration clause is narrow or broad in scope. The Fourth District found the clause in this case was “narrow” in scope.
Although the enrollment contract’s arbitration clause referred generally to a “legal claim against” the school, the clause then stated that such claims had to be resolved through binding arbitration as outlined in the handbook. The handbook specified that arbitration would be appropriate for “any claim or dispute arising out of your student’s enrollment at” the school.
Concluding the arbitration clause in the case was narrow in scope, the court then concluded that the wrongful death action did arise out of the enrollment contract and handbook and had a direct relationship with the narrow arbitration clause. Because the court found that the claims had a direct relationship to the enrollment contract and the handbook’s terms, arbitration was the only remedy available to these grieving parents.
NO ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DETERMINING THAT PLAINTIFF’S PROFFERED REASON FOR EXERCISING PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE ON HISPANIC JUROR WAS NOT GENUINE.
Bulte v. Dollar Tree Stores, 48 Fla. L. Weekly D71 (Fla. 3rd DCA Jan. 4, 2023):
During jury selection in this civil case, the plaintiff sought to use a peremptory challenge on a Hispanic woman juror. Defendant sought a Melbourne challenge and asked for both a race neutral and gender neutral reason.
Unfortunately, the opinion does not include what was actually said that led the court to reject the genuineness of the strike. For readers, the court simply concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion or “commit clear error” by concluding that the proffered reason was not genuine.
A TRIAL COURT’S FAILURE TO MAKE ORAL OR WRITTEN FINDINGS IN SUPPORT OF AN ORDER VACATING A DEFAULT JUDGMENT, SUPPORTS REVERSAL ONLY WHERE THE RECORD DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY FACTS TO SUPPORT THE DECISION – NEITHER RULE 1.540(b) OR ANYTHING IN THE FOURTH DISTRICT IMPOSES A REQUIREMENT ON THE TRIAL COURT TO MAKE ORAL OR WRITTEN FINDINGS TO VACATE OR SUPPORT AN ORDER REGARDING DEFAULT JUDGMENT
FI Capital Investment v. South Florida Title Associates, 48 Fla. L. Weekly D100 (Fla. 4th DCA Jan. 4, 2023):
The trial judge vacated the default judgment, doing so simply by writing “granted,” and not including any factual findings.
The court said that that was enough. There is nothing in Rule 1.540(b) that requires specific oral or written findings when a trial court rules on a motion to vacate a default, as long as the record contains facts to support the order.