Many litigation cases are referred to mediation by either the court or one of the parties. Mediation is intended to be a neutral process in which a third party can step in and resolve issues, hopefully avoiding the need to go to court. The mediator facilitates communication and expresses the goals of each party in order to create an amicable solution. Watch as ShuffieldLowman attorney, Loren Vasquez, explains how a mediator, along with our attorneys, can help bring your dispute to a settlement agreement without needing a trial.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including in employment, schools, transportation and all public places and private places that are open to the public. Title III of the ADA regulates public accommodations and services operated by private entities, and is the basis for a new wave of “website accessibility” claims.
ADA public accommodation accessibility claims
Traditionally, public accommodation accessibility claims involved unannounced visits by individuals with one or more disabilities to places of business (typically restaurants, hotels, and other retail establishments) to ascertain whether such public accommodations were in compliance with the ADA. Many of these “visits” were undertaken by either representatives of interest groups or “testers”, who may not have even lived close to or otherwise frequented such places. Numerous lawsuits resulted, with Florida being a hot spot for such activity.
With the advent and proliferation of websites and the internet, issues were raised as to whether company websites were within the scope of the ADA and, thus, whether they had a duty to code their websites to be accessible to visually impaired and hearing impaired persons. Despite the fact that the Department of Justice, regardless of its repeated pronouncements, has failed to enact regulations governing the accessibility of websites, claims have been brought against companies for their alleged lack of website accessibility compliance under the ADA. These claims have accelerated and expanded in number. Once again, Florida is at the top of the pack in the number of these lawsuits
The law continues to develop in this area, but it is now reasonably established that if a business operates a “brick and mortar facility” somewhere, which is open to the public, then a website of such business is, or is part and parcel of, a public accommodation and subject to ADA requirements. Failure to adhere to those “requirements” exposes the business to the standard ADA remedies, including injunctive relief and plaintiff’s costs and expert witness and attorney’s fees. This is in addition to, of course, a business incurring its own attorney’s and expert’s fees and other costs in defense of such action.
ADA requirement for websites – WCAG 2.0
So what are the ADA “requirements” in this regard? In the void created by the absence of Department of Justice regulations, courts have looked to private industry and associations for an applicable standard as to website accessibility for the visually impaired. In this regard, certain courts have looked to and even embraced the Worldwide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (“WCAG 2.0”) as the standard to be met.
Like their predecessor “testers” or “drive-by visitors”, generally speaking, plaintiffs who file these website accessibility claims tend to be repeat or serial filers. As opposed to their predecessors, however, they do not have to actually visit the company facility (or even leave their house or apartment); rather, all they need to do is access the company’s website from wherever they are. Typically, they do so in the presence of their chosen expert and videotape their maneuvering through the website and the claimed obstacles and deficiencies therein. Thus, many times these cases come “readymade” upon filing.
Given the above, it is best to address these cases promptly. Of course, the best defense would be to have an ADA compliant website (to the extent possible). Care in selecting website programmers and coders is warranted, as WCAG 2.0 has many specific requirements, and consultants must be familiar with them and be able to test compliance appropriately. The experience of many businesses in this regard, as to self-described consultants or experts in the area, has been very uneven. This can be quite a problem, as there are cases where a company’s expert has been rejected, and also cases that hold that efforts to bring a website into compliance, that have not been finalized, do not stay litigation or preclude further litigation against the company, as to the same website, by another plaintiff.
Shuffield Lowman stands ready to assist companies and clients with respect to these issues. Indeed, ShuffieldLowman early on took the lead itself in having its website audited and brought into compliance, and certified in accordance, with WCAG 2.0 AA standards. If you have additional questions on ADA Website Compliance you can reach out to us at 407-581-9800.
After a tenancy has been terminated or expired, and the premises have been vacated by the tenant through eviction, surrender, abandonment, or otherwise, a landlord may find himself in possession of abandoned personal property which remains on the premises. Although a landlord may be tempted to immediately sell or dispose of the abandoned property, he may be subject to liability if he does not follow the proper procedures outlined by Florida law. The Disposition of Personal Property Landlord and Tenant Act provides the necessary guidance to avoid liability under these circumstances. See § 715.10, F.S., et .
Any personal property left behind should be left on the premises or stored safely by the landlord. A landlord has a duty to exercise reasonable care in storing the property, but he is not liable to the tenant or owner of the property for any loss.
Florida Abandoned Property Notice – How to Use
The first step a landlord should take to properly dispose of personal property is to notify the tenant, and any other person the landlord reasonably believes to be the owner of the abandoned property, that such property remains on the premises. The notice should be in writing, and it should describe all of the property left behind. The description should be detailed enough so that the owner of the property can identify it.
The notice should also notify the owner of the property where the property is being stored (if not remaining on the leased premises), and that reasonable costs for storage may be charged before the property is returned. There should be specific information as to where the property may be claimed and the date before which claim must be made. Such date must be a minimum of ten or fifteen days away, depending on how the notice is served. The Florida Statutes provide sample notice forms that should be used.
If the owner of the property, or anyone reasonably believed to be the owner, pays the costs of storage and acts to take possession of the property on or before the date specified in the notice, the landlord should release the property.
When is Property Considered Abandoned in Florida?
If the owner of the property does not respond within the time frame allotted, the landlord may take action to sell or dispose of the property. If the abandoned property is estimated to be worth less than $500.00, the landlord is free to dispose of it however he would like. If the estimated value of the abandoned property exceeds $500.00, the landlord should arrange for a public sale of the property at the nearest suitable place to where the property is held or stored. Before the sale may occur, notice should be published once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation where the sale is to be held. The advertisement should include the name of the former tenant, a description of the property to be sold, and the time and place of the sale.
A landlord is permitted to bid at the public sale. The successful bidder’s title to the property is subject to ownership rights, liens, and security interest which have priority by law. After the costs of storage, advertising, and the sale have been deducted from the proceeds of the sale, the balance may be claimed by the tenant or property owner within thirty (30) days. If the funds are not claimed, they must be paid into the county registry. At that time, the landlord should be relieved of all further obligations regarding the abandoned property.
There may be similar circumstances where someone is looking to dispose of personal property even when the parties are not connected through a traditional landlord-tenant relationship. Although Chapter 715, Florida Statutes, does not expressly state whether this procedure applies in a situation not involving a landlord and tenant, it would seem reasonable to follow this procedure before disposing of unwanted property in order to avoid liability. It should also be noted that Florida law provides a separate procedure for items abandoned on public property, which involves law enforcement taking possession of the items and auctioning them. SeeChapter 705, Fla. Stat.
This article provides an overview of the process for a landlord to dispose of property left at the premises by a former tenant. You should contact an attorney to determine whether this process is appropriate for your individual situation, and to obtain all of the information necessary to ensure compliance with applicable Florida law.
Under Florida law and as a matter of public policy, settlements are highly favored and will be enforced whenever possible. Settlement agreements are governed by the rules of contracts, and the existence of an enforceable contract is contingent upon the Parties’ agreement to the essential terms of the agreement. What happens when you think you have a settlement agreement, but the other party refuses to sign a formal written settlement agreement?
Is a formal written agreement required to enforce a settlement in Florida?
Creating an enforceable settlement requires agreement to the essential terms of an agreement. What constitutes a material or essential term varies from case to case. Nevertheless, once the parties reach an agreement on the essential terms, a formal written agreement is not required to enforce a settlement. Numerous courts in Florida, both state and federal, have enforced agreements reached through a series of emails between attorneys.
For example, in Warrior Creek Development, Inc. v. Cummings, 56 So. 3d 915 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) the attorneys involved negotiated a settlement over e-mail. Their emails set forth the “essential and material terms” of the agreement between the parties. The attorneys subsequently drafted a written settlement agreement, which one party refused to sign, stating “the deal is off”. The Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order enforcing the settlement, finding that the “parties had agreed upon all of the essential and material terms for settlement and that those terms were reflected in the November e-mail. Similarly, in Miles v. Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co., 677 F. Supp. 2d 1312, 1315-1317 (M.D. Fla. 2009) the Court held that a written settlement agreement is a mere formality where the parties act with the intent to follow the settlement, and the written agreement is essentially what was already agreed upon.
Negotiating a settlement over email – the considerations
These cases illustrate the risks inherent in negotiating a settlement over email. A party who wants to avoid being bound in the absence of a written settlement agreement should consider making an offer conditional upon the execution of a mutually agreeable settlement agreement and release. Conversely, setting out the essential terms of an agreement in written communication can result in a settlement that is enforceable against a party who gets cold feet.
COVID-19 closes Florida courts – Is it time for a settlement agreement?
As COVID-19 closes courts across Florida and the entire Unites States, litigants may be more interested in settling a dispute for a couple of reasons. First, litigation is a lengthy process with an average dispute taking 1-3 years if there is no settlement. Now, with COVID-19, timelines have been extended significantly and will prolong the litigation process further with indefinitely postponed trials.
This pandemic has also caused many to feel uncertain when it comes to their financial status and job security. Litigation is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. By settling, you can avoid costly attorneys’ fees and most likely will receive financial compensation sooner than you would by going to court.
Trustees are required to administer a trust in good faith, in accordance with the terms and purposes of the trust, and the interests of its beneficiaries. There are, however, many aspects of trust administration that can leave even sophisticated trustees searching for advice. The Florida Legislature recognized there are situations in which a trustee must rely on an expert in order to fulfill his or her fiduciary duty when it enacted the Florida Trust Code. Florida Statute Section 736.0816(20) provides that:
A trustee may: Employ persons, including, but not limited to, attorneys, accountants, investment advisers, or agents, even if they are the trustee, an affiliate of the trustee, or otherwise associated with the trustee, to advise or assist the trustee in the exercise of any of the trustee’s powers and pay reasonable compensation and costs incurred in connection with such employment from the assets of the trust, and act without independent investigation on the recommendations of such persons.
Because it provides that a trustee may act on an advisor’s recommendation without independent investigation, Section 736.0816(20) should provide a trustee with immunity from mistakes made by his or her advisors. Indeed, prior to the enactment of the Florida Trust Code, the Third District Court of Appeals found that a substantively identical provision of the Florida Probate Code, Florida Statute Section 733.612(21), shielded personal representatives from liability resulting from errors made by their accountants. See Wohl v. Lewy, 505 So.2d 525 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1987). Personal representatives and trustees are held to the same standard of care and, as a result, Section 736.0816(20) should shield a trustee from liability for a mistake made by an advisor.
Nevertheless, a recent decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeals casts doubt on whether a trustee can rely on an advisor’s recommendation. In Harrell v. Badger, 171 So. 3d 764 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) a trustee hired an attorney to decant a testamentary trust into a special needs trust. The trustee’s attorney did not, however, follow the requirements of Florida Statute Section 736.04117 in decanting the original testamentary trust. The Trustee argued that, like the personal representative in Wohl, he relied on his professional advisor’s recommendations and therefore should not be liable for the improper decanting. The court rejected that argument.
In light of the decision in Harrell, it is unclear to what extent a trustee may rely on Section 736.0816(20) for protection from liability for erroneous legal, accounting and other negligent professional advice. Unlike personal representatives who are protected by Section 733.612(21), the Harrell decision suggests that trustees are “de facto” insurers of the professionals they hire. Accordingly, trustees should carefully consider who they hire to render them legal and other professional advice.
ShuffieldLowman’s four downtown offices are located in Orlando, Tavares, DeLand and Daytona Beach. The firm is a 34 attorney, full service, business law firm, practicing in the areas of corporate law, estate planning, real estate and litigation. Specific areas include, tax law, securities, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, estate planning and probate, planning for families with closely held businesses, guardianship and elder law, tax controversy – Federal and State, non-profit organization law, banking and finance, land use and government law, commercial and civil litigation, fiduciary litigation, construction law, association law, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, labor and employment, environmental law and mediation.
In the groundbreaking case of Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293, 126 S. Ct. 1735, 164 L. Ed. 2d 480 (2006), the United State Supreme Court scaled back the (widely perceived) extensive parameters of the so-called “probate exception” to federal jurisdiction in cases involving estate fiduciaries or touching upon state court probate proceedings. As a result, more cases that involve probate issues, estate proceedings or the parties thereto are ending up in federal court. However, even though a plaintiff may successfully fend off a challenge to federal court jurisdiction based on the probate exception – as several have done (at least in part) – merely clearing this jurisdictional hurdle does not assure that such “victorious” litigant will stay in federal court.
A potential counterbalance to more expansive federal court jurisdiction, given the “loosening” of the probate exception, where state probate (or trust) proceedings are in play, is the doctrine of prior exclusive jurisdiction. Under such doctrine, it is inappropriate for a federal court to exercise jurisdiction where there are two suits, one in state court and one in federal court, and the suits are in rem or quasi in rem. This is also known as the Princess Lida doctrine. This does not refer to a Star Wars character, but, rather, to the Supreme Court decision in Princess Lida of Thurn and Taxis v. Thompson, 305 U.S. 456, 59 S. Ct. 275, 83 L. Ed. 285 (1939). It has been held that this doctrine of prior exclusive jurisdiction has melded with the probate exception in cases involving state probate proceedings and estate administration, which may conflict with federal jurisdiction. See Selseth v. Darwit, 536 F. Supp. 2d 883 (N.D. Ill. 2008).
In Princess Lida, state court proceedings in Pennsylvania were commenced concerning a trust set up to benefit Princess Lida of Thurn and Taxis, formerly Lida Eleanor Purcell Fitzgerald, emanating from her divorce from George P. Fitzgerald and payments from the divorce settlement. The Pennsylvania state court maintained jurisdiction of this matter for years, which included the filing and review of accountings. After several years of having the trust in the Pennsylvania state court, and while the same was still pending, Lida instituted suit in federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania alleging mismanagement of the trust funds and requesting various relief. Subsequently, both the state court and the federal court enjoined the parties in the other action from pursuing the same. The state court’s ruling was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Obviously, at a stalemate, with each court (the state and federal) ordering the parties not to pursue the other case, the United States Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction and acted.
The United States Supreme Court held that one court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the administration of a trust precluded a second court from exercising quasi in rem jurisdiction over a later lawsuit brought by the beneficiaries of the trust asserting claims against the trustees for mismanaging the trust. The Court noted that two courts may have concurrent jurisdiction over cases involving in personam claims, and both may “proceed with the litigation at least until judgment is obtained in one of them which may be set up as res judicata in the other.” However, the Court held that there cannot be concurrent jurisdiction over in rem or quasi in rem claims. The Court stated:
[I]f the two suits are in rem, or quasi in rem, so that the court, or its officer, has possession or must have control of the property which is the subject of the litigation in order to proceed with the cause and grant the relief sought the jurisdiction of the one court must yield to that of the other.
We have said that the principle applicable to both federal and state courts that the court first assuming jurisdiction over property may maintain and exercise that jurisdiction to the exclusion of the other, is not restricted to cases where property has been actually seized under judicial process before a second suit is instituted, but applies as well where suits are brought to marshal assets, administer trusts, or liquidate estates, and in suits of a similar nature where, to give effect to its jurisdiction, the court must control the property.
The Supreme Court thus ruled that the Common Pleas Court of Pennsylvania had acquired jurisdiction, and that the federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania was without jurisdiction of the suit subsequently brought for the same or similar relief, and that the parties in that suit were properly enjoined from pursuing it.
This principle, which has become known as the “Princess Lida Doctrine”, has been applied routinely throughout the country. See Dailey v. National Hockey League, 987 F. 2d 172, 175 (3d Cir. 1993) (acknowledging the continuing validity of the Princess Lida doctrine). In short, “[t]he Princess Lida doctrine requires abstention based upon principles of comity and in rem jurisdiction.” Selton v. U.S. Bank Trust Nat. Assn., SD, No. 6:14-cv-1278-ORL-37KRS, 2015 WL 4987706, *4, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109487 (M.D. Fla. August 19, 2015).
As indicated, the Princess Lida doctrine applies equally to state and federal courts. See Cartwright v. Garner, 751 F. 3d 752, 761 (6th Cir. 2014) (“The principle that the court first assuming jurisdiction over the property may maintain and exercise that jurisdiction is applicable to both state and federal courts.”). As a consequence, Princess Lida also applies where no federal court is involved and both the first and second actions are pending in the courts of different states. In such cases, where a court in one state first assumes in rem or quasi in rem jurisdiction over property, a court in a later-filed action in another state must abstain from hearing claims relating to the same property. In re Rust’s Estate, 17 Pa. D. & C.3d 627 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1979) (expressly holding that Princess Lida applies where two actions are pending in the courts of different states, and that the exercise of in rem or quasi in rem jurisdiction by a court in one state deprives a court in a different state of jurisdiction over a later-filed in rem or quasi in rem action concerning the same subject matter as the first action); Interfirst Bank-Houston v. Quintana Petroleum, 699 SW 2d 864, 878 (Tex. Ct. App. 1985) (applying Princess Lida and holding that “Where the jurisdiction of a court [of another state] has attached, and the proceeding is quasi in rem, as is the administration of a trust, other courts should not interfere with that jurisdiction.”)
Florida courts have likewise adopted the principles enumerated in Princess Lida and noted their applicability to cases involving trusts. Blake v. Blake, 172 So. 2d 9, 10 (Fla. 3d DCA 1965) (“As between courts of concurrent jurisdiction, it has generally been held that the court which first exercises jurisdiction over a matter retains such jurisdiction to the termination of the cause.”). Indeed, prior to Princess Lida, the Florida Supreme Court held that “a court which has in its rightful possession or under its control property involved in litigation may exercise jurisdiction over such property to the exclusion of all other courts, and another court of concurrent jurisdiction cannot interfere and wrest from it the jurisdiction first obtained.” Maddox Grocery Co. v. Hay, 100 So. 747, 747 (Fla. 1924).
1 See, e.g., Jones v. Brennan, 465 F.3d 304 (7th Cir. 2006); May v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., 2009 WL 482719 (E.D. Mich 2009).