Florida Due Process Primer – What Basic Safeguards to Expect from Your Trial Court

Constitutional due process requires every trial court to provide every person with certain fairness and procedural safeguards throughout a court proceeding. Due process requires that a trial court shall not: (1) wander outside the pleadings, granting unrequested relief as the court sees fit;[1] (2) wait months to enter an order after a hearing, after memory of it has faded away;[2] (3) make findings of fact on the court’s personal assumptions, without receiving actual and substantial proof;[3] (4) turn evidence on its head through the misapplication of law, misinterpreting its legal effect;[4] and (5) make unfounded pronouncements about parties, without giving them an opportunity to be heard, call witnesses in their favor, and question witnesses speaking against them.[5] These are fundamental requirements in our judicial system, and failure to provide each requires reversal. Id.

Bernhard Law FirmThe following article further explores these five basic safeguards in Florida. If you have any questions on due process rights, due process requirements, and due process violations in Florida, please contact Bernhard Law Firm at 786-871-3349, abernhard@bernhardlawfirm.com, www.bernhardlawfirm.com.

 

  1. A trial court’s order granting relief outside the pleadings is void as a violation of due process, requiring reversal.

Under well-established Florida law, a trial court cannot grant relief that was neither requested by appropriate pleadings nor tried by consent—to do so is a violation of due process, and an order providing that relief is void. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Patino, 192 So. 3d 637, 638 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) (reversing judgment granting relief outside the pleadings as void); Bank of Am., N.A. v. Nash, 200 So. 3d 131, 135 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) (same).[6]

Thus, where a trial court makes legal rulings or factual findings outside the scope of the pleadings, they are in violation of due process, and are void. Patino at 638; Nash at 135; Newell at 590; Beekman at 475–76. Accordingly, they should be reversed.

  1. A trial court’s excessive delay between hearing and order violates due process, requiring reversal.

Under well-established Florida law, an excessive delay between a hearing and its order requires reversal, where that delay appears to have created something amiss on the merits or findings. Carnicella v. Carnicella, 140 So. 3d 697, 699 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) (six-month delay required reversal, as inconsistencies showed judge forgot or confused issues); Walker v. Walker, 719 So. 2d 977, 978 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998) (9½-month delay required reversal); Polizzi v. Polizzi, 600 So. 2d 490, 491 (Fla. 5th DCA 1992) (3½-month delay required reversal).[7] This rule applies to hearings and rulings by a probate trial court. See Baker at 610; and Porter at 89.

This rule against excessive delay expands upon Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.215(f) (formerly 1.050(f) (Duty to Rule Within a Reasonable Time) as a necessary backstop to judicial inactivity and the disorder it causes. Walker at 979. Where a hearing and its order are separated by a long period of time, the order tends to: (i) differ from the hearing’s testimony, arguments, and pronouncements, and (ii) lack a sufficiently articulated factual basis. Id.

The rule against excessive delay ensures the trial court recalls the arguments, testimony, and demeanor of witnesses and counsels, as well as the dynamics of the hearing, in properly rendering an ultimate order. Id. Thus, excessively delayed orders must be reversed as a violation of due process, and remanded for rehearing and re-presentation of evidence. Carnicella at 699; Walker at 978; Polizzi at 491; Baker at 610; Porter at 89; McKenzie at 49; Tarafa at 1278; Tunnage at 501.

Thus, where a trial court improperly delays months to enter its order after a hearing, it may be unreasonably excessive. If the order shows an inaccurate recollection of things, it violates due process rights. Carnicella at 699; Walker at 978; Polizzi at 491; Baker at 610; Porter at 89; McKenzie at 49; Tarafa at 1278; Tunnage at 501. Such an order should be reversed.

  1. A trial court’s lacking substantial competent evidence to support its order, or any evidence at all, is a due process violation requiring reversal.

Under well-established Florida law, if a trial court’s decision is unsupported by substantial competent evidence, or against the weight of the evidence, it is the duty of this Court to reverse. Brennan v. Honsberger, 101 So. 3d 415, 416–17 (Fla. 5th DA 2012) (reversing on proponent’s failure to present testimony for probate); M.N. v. Dep’t of Children and Families, 826 So. 2d 445, 448 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002) (reversing where evidence did not support a finding on mental state).[8]

Thus, where a trial court makes factual findings that are unsupported by substantial competent evidence, and manifestly against the weight of substantial opposing evidence, the order should be reversed as a violation of due process.

  1. A trial court’s misinterpretation of the legal effect of the statute of repose, pleading failures, or other matters is a violation of due process, requiring reversal.

Under well-established Florida law, if a trial court’s decision is contrary to the legal effect of the record under Florida law, it is the duty of this Court to reverse. Zinger v. Gattis, 382 So. 2d 379, 380 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980) (reversing where ruling contrary to the legal effect of the record); Estate of Kester v. Rocco, 117 So. 3d 1196, 1201 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013) (reversing probate order that misconceived the legal effect of the record); Randy Int’l at 670; In re Perez’ Estate at 59.[9] To determine legal effect, the Court must look at the applicable Florida law and compare the record to that law. Id.

For example, any belated claim against or upon an estate becomes barred by the statute of repose after two years—the lapse automatically removes the trial court’s jurisdiction over an estate, bars untimely claims, and is not subject to waiver or extension in probate proceedings despite allegations that delay was induced improperly. §§ 733.702(5) and 733.710, Fla. Stat. (2017); May v. Illinois Nat’l Ins. Co., 771 So. 2d 1143, 1157 (Fla. 2000) (holding estate claim untimely and barred); Rice v. Greene, 941 So. 2d 1230 n.2 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) (estate claims barred by two-year jurisdictional statute of non-claim).[10]

The Florida Supreme Court and every District Court of Appeal uphold this statute of repose without exception, and reverse attempts to exercise jurisdiction over a claim despite this jurisdictional time-bar. Id., e.g., In re Estate of Fleming at 661 (wife’s claim time-barred despite being induced to delay her claim); Bush at 216 (claims by decedent’s children time-barred despite decedent’s directives)).[11]

This statute of repose prohibits a court from reopening or granting an extension on grounds of fraud, estoppel, or insufficient notice. May at 1157 (Fla. 2000) (discussing that fraud, estoppel, and insufficient notice cannot extend the 2-year statute of repose). This is because enlarging the repose period “would be contrary to the structure and text of . . . the probate code” and “would also frustrate the obvious purpose underlying section 733.710 to provide an absolute bar date” for claims to an estate. Id. at 1156. Any trial court should apply this statute of repose properly to a record, and failure to do so may be a due process violation requiring reversal.

  1. A trial court’s failure to hold an evidentiary hearing at all violates due process, requiring reversal.

In almost any matter, “[d]ue process requires that a party be given the opportunity to be heard and to testify and call witnesses on his [or her] behalf, and the denial of this right is fundamental error.” Fleming v. Demps, 918 So. 2d 982, 984 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005) (quoting Pettry v. Pettrey, 706 So. 2d 107, 108 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998)); Edel, 727 So. 2d at 360–61 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) (reversing on fundamental error that trial court did not have evidentiary hearing and substantial competent evidence on family law issues).

Thus, for example, a trial court is required to conduct an evidentiary hearing to evaluate competing factual allegations and claims to an estate before entering any order that may affect the claimants’ rights in the estate. Delbrouck v. Eberling, 177 So. 3d 66, 68 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) (reversing as trial court required to conduct evidentiary hearing on decedent son’s right to possession of real property); Kountze v. Kountze, 20 So. 3d 428, 433 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (reversing as evidentiary hearing required to determine estate beneficiaries).[12] Failure to do so is a due process violation that requires reversal. Id.

  1. Challenging due process violations in Florida.

Where a trial court enters an order in violation of due process, a party may wish to appeal. When doing so, the de novo standard of review generally applies to a trial court’s non-evidentiary post-judgment decisions, excessively delayed orders, due process violations, factual findings thereunder, and challenges on the need for an evidentiary hearing. Dobson v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 217 So. 3d 1173, 1174 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017) (whether a trial court violated due process rights is subject to de novo review); McKinnon v. State, 221 So. 3d 1239, 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017) (decision to grant or deny an evidentiary hearing on post-judgment relief is subject to de novo review).

If you have any questions on due process rights, due process requirements, and due process violations in Florida, please contact Bernhard Law Firm at 786-871-3349, abernhard@bernhardlawfirm.com, www.bernhardlawfirm.com.

Bernhard Law Firm

[1] Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Patino, 192 So. 3d 637, 638 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) (reversing as judgment granting relief outside the pleadings as void).

[2] Carnicella v. Carnicella, 140 So. 3d 697, 699 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) (six-month delay required reversal, inconsistencies showed judge forgot or confused issues).

[3] Brennan v. Honsberger, 101 So. 3d 415, 416–17 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) (reversing on proponent’s failure to present substantial competent evidence for probate).

[4] Zinger v. Gattis, 382 So. 2d 379, 380 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980) (reversing where ruling was contrary to the legal effect of the evidence).

[5] Walker v. Edel, 727 So. 2d 359, 360–61 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) (reversing on error that trial court did not provide full evidentiary hearing on all issues).

[6] See also Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC v. Newell, 231 So. 3d 588, 590 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017) (same); Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp. v. Beekman, 174 So. 3d 472, 475–76 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) (same, even without objection).

[7] See also Baker v. Vidoli, 751 So. 2d 608, 610 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999) (delay over one year required reversal); Porter v. Estate of Spates, 693 So. 2d 88, 89 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997) (delay over one year required reversal); McKenzie v. McKenzie, 672 So. 2d 48, 49 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) (delay of one year required reversal); City of Miami v. Tarafa Const., Inc., 696 So. 2d 1275, 1278 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997) (7-month delay required reversal); Tunnage v. Bostic, 641 So. 2d 499, 501 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994) (7-month delay required reversal).

[8] See also Hall v. Tungett, 980 So. 2d 1289, 1293 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008) (reversing probate order lacking evidentiary basis); Desvigne v. Downtown Towing Co., 865 So. 2d 541, 542 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003) (“where the court’s decision is manifestly against the weight of the evidence, or unsupported by competent substantial evidence, it becomes this Court’s duty to reverse”); In re K.C., 87 So. 3d 827, 834–35 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (reversing where evidence insufficient to establish child risk); Stewart v. Stewart, 581 So. 2d 246, 248 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991) (reversing findings not supported by evidence); Randy Int’l., Ltd. v. Am. Excess Corp., 501 So. 2d 667, 670 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987) (reversing “because there is no competent substantial evidence”); In re Perez’ Estate, 206 So. 2d 58, 59 (Fla. 3d DCA 1968) (court can reverse a probate order lacking substantial competent evidence).

[9] See also Brennan at 416–17; M.N. at 448; Hall at 1293; Desvigne at 542; In re K.C. at 834–35; Stewart at 248.

[10] See also Bush v. Webb, 939 So. 2d 215, 216 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006) (claims by decedent’s children time-barred after two years); Interim Healthcare of NW Fla., Inc. v. Estate of Ries, 910 So. 2d 329, 329–30 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) (claimant barred from moving probate court to vacate after 2-year repose period); In re Estate of Fleming, 786 So. 2d 660, 661 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (wife’s estate claim time-barred); Becklund v. Fleming, 869 So. 2d 1, 9 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (estate claims time-barred); Dobal v. Perez, 809 So. 2d 78, 79–80 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002) (estate claims barred by 2-year statutory period).

[11] See also Estate of Ries at 329–30 (time-barred); Dobal at 79–80 (time-barred).

[12] Vazza v. Estate of Vazza, 144 So. 3d 698, 698 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (same); Zulon v. Peckins, 81 So. 3d 647, 647 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012) (same); Bennett v. Berges, 32 So. 3d 771, 771–72 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (same); Hall v. Tungett, 980 So. 2d 1289, 1293 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008) (same); Seal v. Brown, 801 So. 2d 993, 994–95 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001) (same).

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Florida Due Process Primer – What Basic Safeguards to Expect from Your Trial Court

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s