DCA can’t override lower court decision, Florida judges decide in insurance case


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Claim settled, but insurer’s lawyers revealed information about mediation, claimants’ lawyer says

An appeals court cannot be used to override lower court rulings except through the normal appellate process, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case involving some of the law firms. the best known in insurance and more than $800,000 in plaintiff’s attorney fees.

The Mintz Truppman v. Cozen O’Connor and Lexington Insurance Co. case began as a claim litigation in Miami, but escalated into a lawsuit over the confidentiality of mediation proceedings. The case made its way through federal and state courts for eight years, despite a settlement on the original claim that was reached in 2016.

And it is far from being resolved: the high court returned the case to 3 Florida on Thursday.rd District Court of Appeals, with instructions to remand it to the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

Insurance attorneys could not be reached for comment. But in court filings, they said the latest legal wrangling was mostly about the plaintiff’s lawyer looking for a way to raise his fees. Timothy Crutchfield, of plaintiffs’ firm Mintz Truppman, said he was not asking for more money, but that his secondary lawsuit was crucial to help prevent the parties from revealing sensitive information discussed in a court case. confidential mediation.

Crutchfield

“It’s extremely important that lawyers don’t ignore the confidentiality of mediation,” Crutchfield said. Otherwise, information about attorney fees can be taken out of context, made public and misrepresented, he said.

And with more property insurers in Florida working to resolve claims disputes through mediation and arbitration, the problem could take on new gravity in the years to come.

“It was never addressed by the appellate courts on this issue,” Crutchfield said.

The case began in 2014, when a broken pipe caused extensive water damage to Daphne Query’s Miami home. She hired Mintz Truppman and sued his insurer, Lexington Insurance Co.

Lexington retained Cozen O’Connor, one of the largest insurance defense companies in Florida, and Cole, Scott & Kissane, another well-known defense company. The case was remanded to federal court in South Florida.

In 2016, after mediation, the parties reached a settlement agreement on the amount of damages – $125,000, according to court records. But they could not agree on the amount of the plaintiff’s attorney fees. Mintz’s attorneys argued that $828,000 was the appropriate amount, given the lodestar factor and a fee multiplier of 2.0, reflecting the reported difficulty of the case and other factors.

Cozen balked, saying the fee should look more like $75,000. Ultimately, it was left to a federal judge to decide, which landed $240,000. The magistrate did not include the multiplier. Query’s attorneys did not object or appeal the decision. In 2017, Lexington paid attorney fees and the $125,000 claim.

It was the end of the dispute over the claim, but not the end of the litigation.

Before the settlement payment was finalized, Crutchfield objected to what he called a breach of mediation confidentiality. He filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, accusing Lexington and Cozen of violating a 2004 Florida law by disclosing in federal court the original amount of the owner’s claim, which was only discussed in under a mediation procedure.

Lawyers for Lexington said they filed the original amount of the claim in order to show that the insured had, in fact, requested a different amount at the start. They also argued that the revelation was kosher since it was part of a larger legal proceeding. And anyway, the federal court had approved the settlement and the costs, thus preventing the state court from interfering in the case.

Cozen’s attorneys asked the Miami-Dade Circuit Court to dismiss Crutchfield’s lawsuit. The judge refused. Cozen then asked the 3rd District Appeals Court to intervene and issue an extremely rare writ of injunction, preventing the Miami judge from siding with Crutchfield on the motion to dismiss his mediation and confidentiality lawsuit.

The 3rd DCA agreed with Cozen’s lawyers and overruled the lower court’s decision, noting that the lower court lacked jurisdiction.

Crutchfield said the DCA judges misinterpreted the nature of his trial. He appealed to the highest court in the state.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the DCA misinterpreted the nature of a writ of prohibition. The instrument can only be used to prevent lower court action, not to correct it.

“If we were to allow litigants to seek restraining in all cases where a trial judge rejects a motion to dismiss based on collateral estoppel, res judicata or any other affirmative defence, the writ could be used to an end to our rules on appeals in general. and interlocutory appeals in particular,” Judge John Couriel wrote for the court. No judge objected to the opinion.

The court overturned the DCA’s decision and sent the case back to the Third District with instructions to dismiss Lexington and Cozen’s requests for a writ of restraining and to rule on certiorari arguments it had previously declared moot.

“It’s okay. It goes to show that a writ of prohibition should have very limited use,” Crutchfield said.

As for the underlying lawsuit of mediation confidentiality, it could be another year or two before it is finally resolved.

“He must go back to the trial court and face a full trial,” he said. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Cozen’s attorneys and attorneys for Cole, Scott and Kissane could not be reached for comment on the decision.

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