The Week In Torts – Cases from June 9, 2023
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FLORIDA LAW WEEKLY
VOLUME 48, NUMBER 23
CASES FROM THE WEEK OF JUNE 9, 2023
TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT TO SEEK PUNITIVE DAMAGES – – THE EMAILS AND TEXTS BETWEEN THE DEFENDANTS THAT WERE PROFFERED MET THE STANDARD FOR SHOWING PUNITIVE DAMAGES.
Warner Enterprises v. Mendez, 48 Fla. Law Weekly D1121 (Fla. 5th DCA June 2, 2023):
The plaintiff is a logistics provider. It sued one of its competitors for tortious interference, civil conspiracy, and several other claims.
The plaintiff alleged that two of its former employees conspired with the defendant to solicit several of its current employees to resign their employment and move to the competitor company defendant, in an effort to undermine the plaintiff’s business.
Plaintiff sought permission to amend the complaint to seek punitive damages. It proffered numerous emails and texts involving two of the defendants and senior officers of the corporate defendant.
In analyzing the evidence, the court explained that to decide whether a plaintiff has made the required “reasonable showing” or a “reasonable basis” for recovering punitive damages, the trial court must make a legal determination that is similar to the standard applied to determine whether the complaint states a cause of action. The court asked whether a reasonable jury could infer from the proffer that the defendant’s conduct satisfied the statutory criteria for punitive damages.
Substantively, punitive damages are reserved for cases in which a defendant is personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Intentional misconduct happens when a defendant has actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and there is a high probability that it will harm the plaintiff, and still pursues the course of conduct.
Gross negligence occurs when a defendant’s conduct is so reckless or wanting in care that it constitutes a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.
A corporation can incur liability for punitive damages based on the actions of its managing agents.
In finding that the plaintiff’s proffer was insufficient to allow a leave to amend, the trial court adopted the defendant’s explanation for what several of the key messages in the proffer meant. While a reasonable jury might well have viewed those messages in the way the trial court did, a jury could have also found to the contrary.
The “leave to amend” stage is not for the court to definitively forecast which view a jury will take. Rather, it is to determine if there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the claim’s position.
Because the court found there was a reasonable showing made for the recovery of punitive damages, it reversed and ruled that plaintiff should have been allowed to amend.
COURT GRANTS CLARIFICATION ON RULING INVOLVING NEW SUMMARY JUDGMENT RULE.
Fuentes v. Luxury Outdoor Design, 48 Fla. Law Weekly D1102 (Fla. 4th DCA May 31, 2023):
In March, the Fourth District reversed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment based solely on the fact that the plaintiff had not filed a response to a motion for summary judgment.
The court explained that the new summary judgment rule provides that if a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact, or fails to properly address another party’s assertion of fact as required by Rule 1.510(c), the court may among other things consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion, or grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials including the fact considered undisputed, show that the movant is entitled to it.
The trial court reasoned that it had to grant the motion because the plaintiff failed to respond, and it believed it had no alternative but to find that the facts were undisputed.
The trial court was mistaken. It should have analyzed whether the supporting materials including the facts considered undisputed, would necessarily result in the defendant’s entitlement to summary judgment based on any of the defendant’s arguments made in support of summary judgment.
To the extent that the trial court believed that it lacked discretion to engage in any analysis because the non-movant failed to respond to the summary judgment motion, the court erred, necessitating reversal.
MOTION SEEKING RELIEF FROM FINAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT BASED ON THE JUDGE’S LATER RECUSAL WAS NOT AUTHORIZED – – RULE 2.330(j) DOES NOT ALLOW RELIEF FROM FINAL JUDGMENT.
Kostelny v. Blue Water Resort, Inc., 48 Fla. Law Weekly D1105 (Fla. 1st DCA May 31, 2023):
The appellants filed a motion in 2020 seeking relief from a judgment entered on April 27, 2017, based on the rendering judge’s later unelaborated recusal. The motion purported to rely on Rule 2.330(j), which allows for reconsideration or amendment or vacatur of a prior factual or legal ruling made by a disqualified judge. However, because the Rule does not allow for relief from a final judgment the motion was unauthorized.