Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Appellate Mediation Sanctions for Non-Attendance

Participants and counsel are reminded of the importance of appearance at mediation in a recent opinion of the Fifth District Court of Appeal. In an appeal from a final judgment, Florida's 5th DCA entered an order referring the matter to appellate mediation (a program in which I've participated since 2001). The order specifically stated that representatives of the parties with full settlement authority were required to attend the mediation in person, unless excused from attendance by the court. The order further stated that the failure to appear could result in the imposition of sanctions. At the commencement of the mediation, no representative appeared for appellant which also provided no certification of full authority to settle. Appellees objected to the absence of the representative and to the limited authority of the insurance company representative. The mediation proceeded without a waiver of objections, resulting in an impasse. Rule 9.720 of the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure (which I helped amend as a corollary of civil procedure rule 1.720) governs appellate mediation procedures and provides that if a party fails to appear at a duly noticed mediation conference without good cause, the court, upon motion of a party or upon its own motion, may impose sanctions. The 5th DCA cited in their interim opinion awarding sanctions, previous holdings in Carden & Associates, Inc. v. C.O.D. Trees Partnership, 83 So. 3d 862 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) and Carbino v. Ward, 801 So. 2d 1029 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001), finding them appropriate for a party's failure to appear at a court-ordered mediation, even though an insurance company representative was present. The court also referenced Mash v. Lugo, 49 So. 3d 828 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010) which held imposing sanctions were appropriate against a party for failing to appear, although counsel appeared who claimed to have full settlement authority. Sanctions in the present case included all fees charged by the mediator, all reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in preparing for and attending the mediation, as well as the costs incurred in filing a motion for sanctions. The court reserved the right to impose additional sanctions, including dismissal of the appeal or the assessment of additional attorney's fees and costs. See slip opinion here-- HDE v. Bee-Line, Case No. 5D15-2805,non-disp.op.pdf

Monday, January 18, 2016

Revised Florida Arbitration Code Reminders

It is important to remind potential parties to state arbitration that the Revised Florida Arbitration Code can still apply to arbitration agreements made before its effective date of July 1, 2013, if all the parties agree. Otherwise, the law existing at the time of the arbitration agreement applies through June 30, 2016. Commencing on July 1, 2016, all arbitration agreements, regardless of their date, will be governed by Chapter 682, Fla. Stat. The statute does not apply to any arbitration that commenced, or any right that accrued, before July 1, 2013. Pursuant to the revised code, it automatically applies to all arbitration agreements entered into after July 1, 2013. Revision applicability should be of interest to legal professionals drafting arbitration provisions common to industries throughout Florida, including: construction, consumer, insurance, employment, securities, and commercial contracts. In regard to application of Statutes of Limitation, we are reminded of the Florida Supreme Court Case of Raymond James v. Phillips, et al., No. SC11-2513 (May 16, 2013) holding that Florida’s statutes of limitation apply to arbitrations. Florida’s SOL time frames are contained in Chapter 95, Fla. Stat. and apply to any “civil action or proceeding.” Fla. Stat. § 95.011 does not expressly define “action” or “proceeding.” The use of this undefined phrase was the subject of significant debate in securities arbitrations a few years ago. Without reference to Florida’s SOL, securities firms, as well as foreign and domestic companies conducting business in this state, were faced with rewriting their arbitration agreements to provide an express limitations period. Because of the uncertainty associated with the enforceability of such provisions, some may have avoided doing business in this state altogether. The Supreme Court of Florida in Phillips rejected arguments that the legislature did not intend to incorporate arbitrations within its reference to proceedings. Likewise, the court found an arbitration proceeding is an “action” broadly defined to encompass any “civil action or proceeding." Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Pariente opined arbitration proceedings are utilized in a wide array of contexts and not applying statutes of limitation would permit parties to wait to bring a claim until documents or witnesses are difficult to locate-- a situation that would significantly increase the time, effort, and expense to resolve a dispute. See more in the statute here-- and opinion here--

Friday, January 8, 2016

Subway Settlement

Remember "Where's the Beef?" This week, Subway finally settled a multidistrict federal class action suit that accused Subway of defrauding its customers over the length of its bread. Some say the Subway foot-long settlement is short on dough, but Subway has agreed to pay some money and put in place a number of quality-control measures to “help ensure that the bread sold to customers is either 6 or 12 inches long." Subway is requiring that monthly restaurant inspections “include a sampling of the baked bread to ensure it is at least 12 inches long.” Subway fast-food restaurants will use bread-measuring tools that ensure their so-called six-inch and foot-long sandwiches don't come up short. According to a memorandum supporting plaintiffs' unopposed motion for final approval of class action settlement, Subway's parent company, Doctor's Associates Inc., will be required to conduct monthly compliance inspections making sure that the restaurants' bread is the size as marketed. The settlement covers only injunctive relief and does not bar individuals from suing for money damages. Nine name plaintiffs could receive up to $1,000 each. The total payout, including attorney fees, won’t exceed $525,000, according to the terms of the deal. I often encourage parties to explore non-monetary settlement terms that add value to a deal and that couldn't ordinarily be enforced by a court order or eventual judgment by a prevailing party. The remedial measures apparently sunset after four years, so get your real foot-long BMT now! See details here-- and here--