Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Aaron Coleman v. John Riccardo, et al.
An anonymous complaint led to Plaintiff’s arrest and trial on charges of aggravated animal cruelty, battery on an officer, and resisting arrest. After a jury acquitted Plaintiff, he sued the officers who arrested him. At issue on appeal was whether those officers are immune from suit under Florida law. The Eleventh Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the officers’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court further reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions for the district court to enter summary judgment, based on sovereign immunity under Fla. Stat. Section 768.28(9)(a), in favor of the officers Officers on Plaintiff’s claims. The court explained that the district court erred in this case when it applied the legal malice standard — instead of the actual malice standard — and determined that an arrest without probable cause by itself establishes that the officers acted with malice for purposes of Section 768.28(9)(a). Thus, because the district court applied the wrong standard, the district court didn’t do what is required, which is to analyze if each officer’s actions created a fact question about whether he was entitled to immunity from each state law claim against him. The court addressed the immunity issues now instead of remanding the case for the district court to do so. In doing so the court held that no reasonable jury could find that any of the officers acted with actual malice or with wanton and willful disregard in arresting Plaintiff, even if they lacked probable cause to arrest him. View "Aaron Coleman v. John Riccardo, et al." on Justia Law
John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company
Plaintiff regularly used Roundup on his lawn for about 30 years. Plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which he believes was linked to the main chemical ingredient in Roundup. Plaintiff filed against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup®. In his four-count complaint, he alleged strict liability for a design defect under Georgia law (Count I); strict liability for failure to warn under Georgia law (Count II); negligence under Georgia law (Count III); and breach of implied warranties under Georgia law (Count IV). The district court granted Defendant’s motion, thereby eliminating Counts I and III from the Complaint. Plaintiff timely appealed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings as to Count II. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded. The court held that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim is not preempted by the federal requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) or the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) actions pursuant to it. The court explained that sometimes IFRA or the EPA’s actions pursuant to FIFRA may preempt state law. But only federal action with the force of law has the capacity to preempt state law. Here, the problem for Monsanto is that the EPA’s registration process is not sufficiently formal to carry with it the force of law under Mead. Further, Monsanto cannot wave the “formality” wand on EPA actions to accomplish compliance with the Mead standard. None of them are the product of “notice-and-comment rulemaking” or “formal adjudication.” Nor do the EPA letters Monsanto points to “bespeak the legislative type of activity that would naturally bind” Monsanto. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law
Donna Brown v. Philip Morris USA, Inc.
Plaintiff, a lifelong smoker, sued Philip Morris USA, Inc., seeking damages for the injuries she sustained as a result of smoking Philip Morris’s cigarettes, specifically her development of peripheral vascular disease (“PVD”), a debilitating disease that eventually required the amputation of both of her legs, among other injuries. A jury returned verdicts against Philip Morris for Brown’s claims for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to fraudulently conceal, and awarded Brown $8,287,448 in compensatory damages and $9 million in punitive damages.Philip Morris appealed the District Court’s denial of its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law on the fraud claims, arguing that Plaintiff presented insufficient evidence to show that she relied to her detriment on statements made by Philip Morris that concealed material information about the health effects or addictive nature of smoking, or that such reliance was a legal cause of her smoking-related disease.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Plaintiff’s jury verdicts for her negligence and strict liability claims, but reversed and remanded on Plaintiff's fraud claims based on the reasoning in Prentice v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. SC20-291, 2022 WL 805951 (Fla. 2022). Engle-progeny plaintiffs bringing a fraudulent concealment or conspiracy to fraudulently conceal claim must prove reliance on one or more specific statements by an Engle defendant. Plaintiff relied on evidence of Philip Morris’s disinformation campaign, which is no longer sufficient under Prentice. View "Donna Brown v. Philip Morris USA, Inc." on Justia Law
Jacquelyn Johnston v. Gary S. Borders, et al.
The appeals at issue involve two conceptually different causes of action against separate Defendants. These claims were pled together and tried to a jury empaneled for each claim. In one claim, Plaintiff, an at-will employee of a sheriff’s office, sued the sheriff, alleging that he made false and stigmatizing statements in terminating her employment that deprived her of a liberty interest in her reputation without affording her a post-termination hearing to clear her name in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the other claim, Plaintiff alleged that a sheriff’s office co-employee, whom she supervised, defamed her in violation of state tort law. The jury found for Plaintiff on both claims. Defendants’ appealed the judgments entered pursuant to the jury’s verdicts in No. 18-14808. In No. 19-13269, the sheriff appealed the judgment awarding Plaintiff an attorney’s fee on the claim brought against him.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment in No. 18-14808 and vacated and remand for further proceedings the judgment for attorney’s fee in No. 19-13269. The court held that because the defamation claim and the due process claim are unrelated, it was an error for the district court to consider the hours expended on the defamation claim in determining the lodestar. The court explained that Plaintiff had the burden of establishing the hours her attorneys spent in preparing for and prosecuting her due process claim against the Sheriff. Thus on remand, the district court must hold Plaintiff to her burden of proof so that it can identify the non-compensable hours and adjust the lodestar accordingly. View "Jacquelyn Johnston v. Gary S. Borders, et al." on Justia Law
Michael Gulisano v. Burlington, Inc.
Appellant represented a client in a negligence action in Florida and obtained a default judgment against a non-existent entity, “Burlington, Inc.” The district court’s final judgment named “Burlington, Inc.” as the sole defendant. To collect on the default judgment, Appellant requested that the court issue a writ naming “Burlington, Inc. a/k/a Burlington Coat Factory Direct Corporation” as the judgment debtor. The court issued the writ instead of using the EIN number of the judgment debtor, “Burlington, Inc.”—which did not exist—he used the EIN numbers of two other entities: Burlington Stores, Inc. (“BSI”) and Burlington Coat Factory Direct Corporation (“BCFDC”). BSI is the parent company of the entities that operate BCFDC and Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corporation (“BCFWC”). BSI and BCFWC moved for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, asserting that Appellant could not have reasonably believed that BSI and BCFWC used the fictitious name “Burlington, Inc.” The court granted the motion for sanctions. Appellant filed an appeal of the district court’s order and the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court acted within its discretion in imposing the sanctions. The court reasoned there was no factual support for Appellant’s claim that “Burlington, Inc.” was the fictitious name of BSI and BCFWC. Further, there was no support for Appellant’s argument that his judgment against “Burlington, Inc.” entitled him to collect from BSI or BCFWC. Further, the court held that the district court acted within its discretion denying the motion for reconsideration. View "Michael Gulisano v. Burlington, Inc." on Justia Law
Mary Brady v. Carnival Corporation
Plaintiff slipped on a puddle of water and broke her hip shortly after boarding a Carnival cruise ship. She then sued the cruise line for negligence. The district court granted summary judgment for Carnival, holding that it lacked a duty to protect Plaintiff because its crewmembers had neither actual nor constructive notice of the particular puddle that caused her fall. The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court, holding that the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant on the basis that Defendant lacked notice was improper. The court found that the district court failed to faithfully follow Carroll. (Carroll v. Carnival Corp., 955 F.3d 1260, 1264 (11th Cir. 2020.) The relevant question, in this case, was whether Carnival “had actual or constructive knowledge that the pool deck where [Plaintiff] fell could be slippery (and therefore dangerous) when wet.” The fact that warning signs were “posted on the pool deck” in the general area of Plaintiff’s fall, when “viewed in the light most favorable to [Plaintiff], is enough to withstand summary judgment as to notice.” View "Mary Brady v. Carnival Corporation" on Justia Law
Reinier Fuentes v. Classica Cruise Operator Ltd, Inc.
Plaintiff and his wife were passengers on a cruise aboard a ship operated by Defendant. A verbal altercation between Plaintiff and another passenger ensued and while the security officer turned to speak to Plaintiff, the other passenger punched Plaintiff in the face. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant was negligent because it failed to (a) reasonably and properly train security personnel; (b) have adequate security measures, including adequate security presence and surveillance cameras; (c) warn him of the danger of being physically assaulted while onboard the vessel; (d) promulgate and enforce policies and procedures designed to prevent passengers from physically assaulting other passengers; and (e) exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, ruling that there was no evidence suggesting that Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the risk of harm. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Defendant and denied Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions. The court held that Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact as to whether Defendant had actual notice that any passengers would attack him. The court reasoned that in the context of passenger-on-passenger violence, a cruise line has a duty to warn and/or protect when it or its employees reasonably apprehend the danger such that the attack was foreseeable. However, while the presence of a security officer during disembarkation connotes some awareness of the importance of order, a verbal dispute does not provide actual notice that a physical assault is to follow. View "Reinier Fuentes v. Classica Cruise Operator Ltd, Inc." on Justia Law
Cindy Thayer v. Randy Marion Chevrolet Buick Cadillac, LLC
Defendant owns an automobile dealership that operates a service department. When a customer brings a car to Defendant for service, he allows the customer to use a dealership-owned vehicle while the customer’s car is being serviced.The current case arose following an incident when Defendant’s customer was using a loaner vehicle while Defendant was servicing his vehicle. The customer caused an accident with Plaintiff who brought a lawsuit against Defendant for vicarious liability under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine.On appeal, the court reviewed (1) whether Defendant rented or leased the vehicle and (2) whether summary judgment was improper because Defendant used conflicting labels for the vehicle. The relevant portion of the Graves Amendment provides that, generally, a motor vehicle owner who rents or leases the vehicle to a person shall not be liable under the law for harm that results from the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the rental period, if the owner is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles; and (2) there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner.The court held that Defendant rented or leased the vehicle to the driver and thus enjoys the protection of the Graves Amendment. The extent a rent or lease requires agreed-upon consideration, this exchange had that. Further, the substance of the transaction, not the label used, controls. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant. View "Cindy Thayer v. Randy Marion Chevrolet Buick Cadillac, LLC" on Justia Law
Robert Wayne Dotson, et al. v. USA
Plaintiffs were involved in a motor vehicle accident involving a vehicle operated by a USPS employee; through counsel, Plaintiffs submitted a “claim for damage, injury, or death." Subsequently, Plaintiffs retained a new law firm (Pawlowski), and provided notice to the USPS. On September 27, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Federal Tort Claims Act action against the government and the USPS employee. On October 16, 2018, a copy of the complaint and summons in the first FTCA action was delivered to the government. Another law firm (“Youngblood”), filed the first FTCA action complaint.On October 22, 2018, the USPS mailed a certified letter denying Plaintiffs’ administrative claims to Pawlowski, indicating Plaintiffs had until April 22, 2019 to file suit against the government. Neither Pawlowski nor Youngblood provided the USPS notice of any change in representation. On August 30, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their second FTCA complaint. On March 4, 2020, the government moved for summary judgment, arguing Plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred.Plaintiffs contend that the government failed to comply with the plain language of 39 C.F.R. Sec. 912.9(a) when the USPS sent the denial letter to Pawlowski. Further that the district court erred in finding they were not entitled to equitable tolling.The court ruled that the USPS mailed the denial letter to the legal representative who Plaintiffs most recently identified, thus complying with the regulation. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate entitlement to equitable tolling. The court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment for the government. View "Robert Wayne Dotson, et al. v. USA" on Justia Law
Erika L. McNamara v. Government Employees Insurance Company
While driving the co-plaintiffs car, the plaintiff negligently changed lanes and caused a collision, seriously injuring another driver. At the time of the incident at-fault car’s owner had a GEICO insurance policy that provided bodily-injury coverage up to $100,000 per person. The victim and Geico assert they made offers to settle, but the parties never agreed. After the conclusion of the victim's lawsuit, plaintiffs sued GEICO for bad faith, seeking to recover the amounts of the final judgments entered against them that exceeded the $100,000 policy limit. They contended that GEICO had breached its fiduciary duty to them by failing to settle the victim’s case within the policy limit. Plaintiffs challenge Cawthorn v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co 791 F. App’x 60, 65 (11th Cir. 2019), arguing that Florida law doesn’t require that a verdict precede an excess judgment as a prerequisite to proving the causation element of an insurer-bad-faith claim. The court reasoned that plaintiffs' available coverage and final judgments entered against them constituted excess judgments. Thus, plaintiffs could prove causation in their bad-faith case because they were subject to excess judgments. Finally, the court declined to follow Cawthorn because that court incorrectly analyzed Florida's bad-faith law and is unpersuasive. View "Erika L. McNamara v. Government Employees Insurance Company" on Justia Law