La Cava Jacobson & Goodis

Florida Law Weekly – January 15, 2021

Zachary Deaterly v. Rodney Jacobson – 2nd DCA

In this case, Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendant arising from an incident where the Defendant shot and killed the Plaintiff’s dog.  After discovery was completed, Plaintiff sought leave to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages.  Defendant argued at the hearing that a clear and convincing evidence standard should be applied by the Judge to determine if the Plaintiff had established a sufficient basis for the punitive damages claim. The Judge denied Plaintiff’s motion after an evidentiary hearing.

After a successor Judge was assigned to the case, Plaintiff sought reconsideration of the prior Judge’s ruling and renewed the motion for punitive damages.  After a hearing, the successor Judge granted Plaintiff’s Motion on the grounds that the previous Judge had applied the incorrect standard in denying the Motion.  The Court of Appeal agreed with the successor Judge’s findings, affirming that punitive damages may be sought if the moving party demonstrates a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.  The Court of Appeal also noted that the successor Judge had the authority to “review, vacate, and/or modify the predecessor’s interlocutory rulings” because a final judgment had not been entered in the case.

Glickman and Glickman v. Kindred Hospitals East, LLC – 3rd DCA

In this case, Plaintiffs sued a hospital and its contracted security company after the Plaintiff was shot by a hospital visitor.  After discovery, the Security Company moved for summary judgment on the grounds that its contract with the hospital explicitly limited its protection to the hospital and its employees and disavowed a duty to protect others.  The Trial Court granted the Security Company’s motion.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling and agreed that the plain terms of the contract between the hospital and the Security Company provided no duty for the Security Company to provide protection to hospital guests and visitors.  The Court dispensed with the argument that because the contract between the hospital and the Security Company expired before the incident, and because the hospital continued to pay for the services provided by the Security Company, a new, unwritten contract was formed wherein the Security Company assumed a general duty to protect visitors in addition to employees or, alternatively, voluntarily undertook the duty to protect visitors.  The Court of Appeal disagreed, noting that there was nothing done to expand the scope of services set forth in the written agreement.

Alex Nunes v. Valerie Herschman and Brian O’Connell – 4th DCA

In this case, an employee filed suit against his employer after the employee was fired for giving unfavorable testimony against the employer in a deposition.  Plaintiff’s complaint asserted violations of § 92.57, Florida Statutes (2017), which bars an employer from firing an employee due to the nature of the employee’s testimony when the employee testified in a judicial proceeding in response to a subpoena.  The Trial Court dismissed the claim on the grounds that a deposition is not considered a judicial proceeding that is encompassed by the language of the statute.  In affirming the decision, the Appellate Court opined thatdepositions are legal proceedings that occur outside of the court and outside the presence of a Judge.  Judicial proceedings are those in the presence of a Judge or Judicial Officer.  As such, the Court affirmed that the employer did not violate the statute by firing the employee as a result of his deposition testimony.

Guillermo Cuevas v. State of Florida – 4th DCA

In this criminal case, the Appellate Court opined that a Defendant’s statements to a member of the clergy were not privileged as any privilege was waived.  After admitting to his wife that he had had sexual intercourse with a minor, the Defendant admitted his actions to his pastor.   The Defendant then informed his wife of the content of the conversation with the pastor.  The Defendant then admitted to the actions with the minor during a conversation with his wife and a church volunteer.  Prior to trial, the Defendant attempted to prohibit the pastor or the volunteer from testifying, claiming that the conversations were privileged as they were with clergy members.  The Trial Court ruled that the privilege was waived because the wife had been told of, or participated in, the conversations.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the admission of both the pastor’s and the church volunteer’s conversation with the Defendant.  As to the conversation with the pastor, the Court of Appeal held that the privilege did not apply because the statute requires the communication to be made privately.  As to the conversation with the church volunteer, the Court held that the privilege would not apply to this conversation because the Defendant did not reasonably believe that the volunteer was a member of the clergy.  Assuming that the Defendant believed the volunteer to be a clergy member, the privilege was waived because the conversation occurred in the presence of his wife and in a public place.

Ethan Elalouf v. School Board of Broward County – 4th DCA

In this negligence action, the Plaintiff (a high school varsity soccer player) sued the Defendant School Board for failing to cover a cement barrier that was near the soccer field after the Plaintiff was knocked into the barrier by another player.  Prior to the game, Plaintiff and his father signed a release which barred recovery for any personal injury that resulted from participation in the game.  The Trial Court granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the language of the pre-injury release.

The Appellate Court affirmed, finding that the pre-injury release clearly stated that the Defendant would be held harmless for injuries suffered from athletic participation.    The Court of Appeal also opined that the pre-injury release signed by the Plaintiff’s father was for a “noncommercial activity” and therefore, Florida law prohibiting the enforcement of commercial activity pre-injury releases was inapplicable to the Defendant School Board.

Joshua Steven Tanner v. State of Florida – 2nd DCA

In this criminal case, the Trial Court admitted cellphone and text message evidence.  The Defendant was convicted on all counts.  The Court of Appeal overturned the conviction finding that the Trial Court improperly admitted the cellphone and text message evidence.

The Court of Appeal first opined that the Trial Court committed error by admitting detective testimony relating to a cellphone found at the scene.  While the Defendant provided a passcode for the phone, the code did not unlock it.  The Defendant argued that the testimony was inadmissible because the State called the detective to testify for the sole purpose of creating an inference that the Defendant was hiding incriminated evidence by giving an incorrect passcode.  The Court of Appeal held that because there was no evidence no evidence establishing that the phone belonged to the Defendant, the testimony was inadmissible.

The Court of Appeal also opined Trial Court committed error when it admitted testimony regarding text messages a detective viewed on the victim’s phone.  The detective testified as to the threatening nature of the messages and that the victim had told him they were from the Defendant.  Because neither the victim’s phone nor the text messages themselves were admitted into evidence, the the Court of Appeal held that the testimony was inadmissible hearsay.

Sally Tanner and Tropical Music Services, Inc. v. Danielle Hart – 2nd DCA

In this automobile accident case, a Plaintiff sought production of ten years’ worth of medical records from the Defendant driver after learning of the Defendant’s inability to be deposed due to her memory loss associated with dementia.  The defense opposed this request as being overbroad, a seeking irrelevant information and as a violation of her constitutional right to privacy.  After initially sustaining the Defendant’s objection, the Trial Court ultimately ordered the records produced.

In reversing the Trial Court’s ruling, the Court of Appeal reiterated that medical records enjoy a confidential status via the right to privacy in the Florida Constitution.  As such, Courts must balance privacy interests with the need for the information contained in the medical records.  In doing so, the Trial Court was required to conduct an in camera inspection to determine if the records were relevant before ordering their production.  Because the Trial Court did not do so, its ruling was reversed.

The Court of Appeal also reversed because the request for ten years of records “cast too wide a net.”  The Court opined that because the accident occurred in 2014 and the litigation began in 2018, the ordering of production of records dating back to 2011 was improper without a Court determination of relevancy.