Record Evidence Did Not Support Finding of Fraud on the Court – Ford v. Stimpson

In this products liability case, final judgment  was entered in favor of the defendant following a four-week jury trial.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had committed fraud on the court and sought to set aside the final judgment pursuant to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(3).

The trial court granted plaintiff’s motion finding that the defendant (1) had destroyed evidence, (2) made false representations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), (3) improperly inquired on cross-examination about matters excluded from evidence by a motion in limine, and (4) presented false and misleading testimony through its experts.

After determining that the defendant had committed fraud on the court, the trial court struck the defendant’s answer and affirmative defenses, entered judgment on liability in favor of the plaintiff, and ordered a trial on the issue of damages.  The defendant appealed the trial court’s order.

The Fifth DCA determined that:

Fraud on the court occurs where “it can be demonstrated, clearly and convincingly, that a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense.” citing Cox v. Burke, 706 So. 2d 43, 46 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998).

Reviewing the evidence submitted to the trial court on each of the four instances of purported fraud, the Fifth DCA determined that their was insufficient record evidence to support the trial court’s findings.  The Fifth DCA overturned the trial court’s decision to grant the Rule 1.540(b)(3) motion, thereby effectively reinstating the final judgment in favor of the defendant.

Ford v. Stimpson, 5th District. Case No. 5D11-2787 (April 19, 2013).

Effective Immediately – You Do Not Get Extra 5 Days for Mailing of Proposal for Settlement

Effective immediately, the Florida Supreme Court has amended Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442 to clarify that you do not get an additional five days to respond to a proposal for settlement when the proposal is mailed.  The ambiguity came about following the changes to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.090 and Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.514(b).

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442 has been edited to reflect the amendment.


Order Restricting Informal Discovery Infringes on Litigant’s Right to Free Speech

In this medical business dispute between a buyer and sellers of surgical centers, the trial court entered an order precluding the sellers from communicating with any third party, including those in other countries, about the facts of the case without first proceeding through the court’s formal discovery process. The appellate court reversed, holding that the order 1) “hinders the Sellers’ counsel’s ability to prepare their case for trial and places an unnecessary burden on the circuit court to oversee informal fact-finding,” and 2) “infringes on the Sellers’ right to free speech because it prohibits any informal investigation of the case without the Sellers’ first seeking permission from the court.”

SP Healthcare Holdings, LLC; ASC Holdings, Inc.; Rodolfo Gari, M.D.; Laurie Gari; Rodolfo Gari Jr., Grantor Retained Annuity Trust; and Laurie Gari Grantor Retained Annuity Trust v. Surgery Center Holdings, LLC; Armenia Ambulatory Surgery Center, LLC; Surgery Center Holdings, INC.; and H.I.G. Middle Markets, LLC, 38 Fla. L. Wkly D571a (Fla. 2d DCA Mar. 8, 2013).