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