Federal Express Corp. v. Gadith Sabbah,
3d DCA 3/22/23, Judge Lindsey
Topics: Petition for Certiorari, Punitive Damages
Sabbah, the plaintiff below, sued Federal Express for…something. The opinion never gets into it, really. After filing the complaint, Sabbah decided that whatever FedEx allegedly did, he though it warranted punitive damages, so he moved to amend his complaint to all a claim for punitive damages. The trial court granted the motion.
FedEx wanted to challenge the addition of punitive damages, but the central question in this case was whether it was supposed to file an appeal or file a petition for a writ of certiorari. FedEx hedged its bets and filed a petition for cert but also asked the DCA to treat it as an appeal if possible.
The DCA cleared up the question of whether it was an appealable nonfinal order. Because this opinion will not apply to any future cases, you could almost call it a case of LAST impression.
In January 2022, the Supreme Court of Florida amended Rule 9.130(a)(3)(G), Fla. R. App. P. (2023), but the court made the rule change effective April 1, 2022. The new rule now allows interlocutory appeals from non-final orders granting or denying leave to amend a complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. Prior to that, a cert petition had been the only avenue to challenge such an order.
In this case, the order was rendered on January 7, 2022, and the petition/appeal was filed on February 7, 2022. For some reason, the DCA asked the parties for supplemental briefing on whether the April 2022 rule could apply to allow appellate review instead of cert review. Unsurprisingly, the Court followed cases holding that the case should be handled based on the rules of procedure in effect on the date of the filing of the petition or appeal. And because the petition/appeal was filed before the effective date of the new rule, it had to be handled under the more restrictive standard applicable to a petition for a writ of certiorari, not an appeal. But all similar cases filed after April 1, 2022, will be handled under the new rule.
Handling it as a cert petition was a death knell for FedEx’s challenge. The DCA applied an extremely narrow version of cert review. There was no discussion of a departure from the essential requirements of law or irreparable harm to FedEx. Instead, the DCA stated that their review was limited to whether the trial judge’s order conforms with the procedural requirements of section 768.72, and stated that the court could not review the facts regarding whether the punitive damages claim was “reasonable” Because the judge complied with the procedural requirements, the petition was denied without prejudice to Fed Ex raising the issue in an appeal after entry of a final judgment.