October 9, 2002
In a big victory for Florida employers, the First District Court of Appeal issued its long-awaited decision today overturning Circuit Court Judge Nikki Ann Clark’s ruling that the Tort Reform Act of 1999 was unconstitutional. The 1999 law was designed to shield Florida 's employers from frivolous and excessive lawsuits and damage awards.
The plaintiffs had contended that the parties represented by the group were harmed by the 1999 law, an allegation the appeals judges found “hypothetical,” “abstract,” and insufficient to merit standing as a plaintiff in the case. The First DCA remanded the case back to Judge Clark and advised dismissal of the lawsuit.
Led by Consumer Action Network, which is little more than a trial-bar front group, the plaintiffs are expected to appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which may or may not choose to hear the case. The Florida Supreme Court is typically resistant to overruling or even considering a First DCA ruling and this particular First DCA ruling is a well-crafted and strongly worded decision.
The appellate review stems from Judge Clark’s decision in February 2001 that struck down the tort-reform law on highly technical grounds. Under the Florida Constitution each law enacted by the Legislature must be limited to a single subject. Judge Clark declared the 1999 law in violation of that constitutional requirement, despite three Florida Supreme Court rulings in the past 20 years holding that tort reform constitutes a single subject.
The defendants, which included Associated Industries of Florida, immediately appealed her decision to the First District, which promptly asked the state Supreme Court to take on the case. In April the Supreme Court declined early review of the Clark decision in a unanimous decision and bounced it back to the First District.
Court victories for the business community are few and far between. This ruling by the First DCA is a positive step in our efforts to protect the much needed and historic reforms of 1999. We will keep you advised as the legal maneuverings continue.