Dismissal with Prejudice Not an Option for Failure to Serve Process Within 120 Days

In this breach of contract case, the trial court sua sponte dismissed a complaint “with prejudice” for failure to serve it within 120 days, after the court entered an order requiring service within 120 days.  The appellate court reversed for two reasons: the trial court should have provided notice and an opportunity to be heard before dismissal, and should not have dismissed the complaint with prejudice, reasoning that “Rule 1.070(j) states that a trial court may act on its own initiative; however, the court may only act “on its own initiative after notice.”   Further, “the trial court also erred in dismissing Carter’s complaint with prejudice. That action was not one of the options available to it under rule 1.070(j). See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.070(j) (emphasis added) (“[T]he court . . . shall dismiss the action without prejudice or drop that defendant.”).”

Carter v. Mendez, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1229a (Fla. 4th DCA June 11, 2014)

 

 

Error to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution at Case Management Conference

After Plaintiff failed to attend a case management conference, the trial court issued an order which stated in its entirety:

Neither plaintiff nor defendant appeared at duly set status conference. Whereas this court hereby dismisses without prejudice the above styled case for lack of prosecution.

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.420(e) allows the court to dismiss a suit for lack of prosecution, but the required procedures for dismissal for lack of prosecution were not met, i.e.: “no record activity for ten months followed by a notice to the parties and a sixty-day opportunity to take action.”

The 4th DCA noted that the trial court could have dismissed the suit under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.200(c), which provides that the court may “dismiss the action” if a party fails to attend a case management or pretrial conference. However, the court would have had to made a finding of fact that the failure to attend the case management hearing was “willful and contumacious.”

Since the court’s order merely stated that Appellant failed to attend the conference and did not set forth any findings establishing that Appellant engaged in “willful and contumacious” behavior, the 4th DCA overturned the trial court’s dismissal.

PETERSEN & HAWTHORNE, P.A. v. EMI ENTERPRISES, INC., et. al.,  Case No. 4D11-3609 (4th DCA June 12, 2013).

Dismissal for Lack of Prosecution – Spencer v. EMC Mortgage Corporation

In this mortgage foreclosure case, the trial court issued a 60-day notice of lack of prosecution.  Although counsel received a copy of the notice within the 60-day period, plaintiff did not respond within this period or show good cause in writing at least five days before the hearing why the action should remain pending.  The court dismissed the case for lack of prosecution despite counsel’s disputed claim that notice was received late within the 60-day period.  The appellate court affirmed, holding further that the “‘no notice received’ exceptions detailed in Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. v. Basanta, 88 So. 3d 216 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), and Boosinger v. Davis, 46 So. 3d 152, 154 n.2 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010),” did not apply.

Spencer v. EMC Mortgage Corporation, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D2068a (3d DCA Aug. 29, 2012)

Cabrera v. Pazos (Fla. 2d DCA March 2, 2006)

In Cabrera v. Pazosthe Second DCA found that “once a party files a proper rule 1.440(b) notice that a matter is ready for trial, it is the court’s duty to set the cause for trial. See Young, 730 So. 2d at 766 (“[I]t is the trial court’s responsibility to enter an order setting a date for trial, and it is the filing of the notice which bars the court from dismissing the action for lack of prosecution.”). Failure of the trial court to set the case for trial precludes dismissal for failure to prosecute despite the lack of record activity. Reyes, 895 So. 2d at 1274-75; see Pierstorff v. Stroud, 454 So. 2d 564, 565 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983). This matter was never scheduled for trial after Mr. Cabrera filed his notice for jury trial.

The trial court abused its discretion when it dismissed Mr. Cabrera’s complaint for failure to prosecute pursuant to rule 1.420(e). Accordingly, we reverse the final judgment of dismissal and remand for further proceedings.”