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Monthly Case Law Update

By Debra P. Klauber, Esq.

APPELLATE JURISDICTION CAN SEEM EVASIVE; KNOWING THE INS AND OUTS CAN SAVE THE ATTORNEY AND CLIENT TIME AND EFFORT WHEN SEEKING REVIEW OF TRIAL COURT DECISIONS.

Understanding what constitutes a final, appealable order, and knowing when a notice of appealmustbe filed, can be critical in establishing appellate jurisdiction. Inexperience with the appellate rules or a lack of knowledge about the nuances of appellate jurisdiction can be fatal to an appeal. In the latest decisions to come out of Florida’s appellate courts, there are a number of cases that help provide some clarity on this complex issue.

An order dismissing a case with prejudice is a final, appealable order. Only the motions listed in Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.020(h)(1) will postpone “rendition” of that order and toll the time for filing a notice of appeal. Of particular note, a timely filed motion to vacate the order of dismissal is not one of the motions that tolls the time for an appeal. Landson v. Reid, et al., No. 3D18-9516, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D650 (Fla. 3d DCA March 6, 2019).

Similarly, in a post-trial proceeding, an order denying a party’s renewed motion for a directed verdict, or for a new trial, is also a final, appealable order which must be appealed within 30 days. A party’s failure to invoke appellate jurisdiction within that time frame requires dismissal. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Olson, No. 1D18-4938, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D604 (Fla. 1stDCA Feb. 28, 2019).

Because the notice of appeal is jurisdictional, and acts to transfer jurisdiction to the appellate court, the failure to file the notice of appeal on or before the 30thday prevents the court from accepting review. Even a notice filed one day late is untimely and the appellate court is without jurisdiction, as it has no discretion to accept review. Johnson v. Fla. Dept. of Corrections, No. 1D19-0166, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D604 (Fla. 1stDCA Feb. 28, 2019).

An order setting aside a clerk’s default is not a final, appealable order, and is also not reviewable by certiorari absent extraordinary circumstances. Hall v. Reynolds, No. 2D18-2948, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D495 (Fla. 2d DCA Feb. 20, 2019).

Likewise, an order briefly staying the underlying case is not a final, appealable order (and is also not an order granting injunctive relief which might justify an immediate, non-final appeal).Safepoint Ins. Co. v. Schmitz, No. 5D18-2054, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D548 (Fla. 5thDCA Feb. 22, 2019).

Appellate courts also disfavor “piecemeal” appeals and will not accept review of a single issue in a multi-count lawsuit where the issues are interdependent or interrelated. MV Senior Mgmt., Inc. v. Redus Fla. Housing, LLC, No. 1D17-4688, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D739 (Fla. 1stDCA March 20, 2019).

SIMILARLY, UNDERSTANDING WHEN AN APPELLATE COURT DOES, AND DOES NOT, HAVE JURISDICTION TO REVIEW AN ISSUE CAN SAVE COUNSEL, AND THEIR CLIENTS, TIME AND EFFORT.

Polanco v. Citizens Prop. Ins. Co., No. 3D18-2364, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D587 (Fla. 3d DCA Feb. 27, 2019).

An appellate court does not, for example, have the authority to review matters related to judicial assignments arising out of administrative orders at the county and circuit court level. Accordingly, where a petitioner sought appellate review to challenge a county court judge’s actions in presiding over a circuit court proceeding, the appellate court dismissed the petition.

UNDERSTANDING THE PROPER STANDARD OF REVIEW ON APPEAL IS EQUALLY CRITICAL WHEN EVALUATING THE CLIENT’S LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS.

Negron v. Resolution Life Holdings, Inc., No. 3D17-2417, 44 Fla. L Weekly D700 (Fla. 3d DCA March 13, 2019).

By way of example, the standard of review following a bench trial is far different from the appellate standard after a jury trial. While the appellate court reviews a trial court’s legal findings de novo, an appellate court is bound by the trial court’s findings of fact as long as they are supported by competent, substantial evidence. In fact, the trial judge’s findings of fact are “clothed with a presumption of correctness” and the appellate court will not disturb those findings unless they are clearly erroneous.

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