Mintz Truppman, P.A., etc. v. Cozen O’Connor, PLC, et al. SC20-1225

– Summary by Victor Machado

Justice Couriel delivered the following opinion, in which the Court decided that the Third District Court of Appeal ruled incorrectly by issuing a writ of prohibition to prevent a circuit court from exercising jurisdiction over claims that, one party says, the other party was collaterally estopped from advancing.

Daphne Query (Query), a homeowner, was involved in a pipe-burst dispute with her insurance company, Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington), which was represented by Cozen O’Connor, PLC (Cozen). After settling before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement and to
determine the amount of attorneys’ fees. Subsequently, the parties were unable to reach an agreement as to attorney’s fees at mediation, with Lexington and Cozen noting that Mintz was not paid 100% of her losses from the property damage as she initially demanded more money.

As a basis for their argument, Lexington and Cozen filed Query’s initial settlement demand. Query filed a lawsuit in state court, arguing that Lexington and Cozen violated the confidentiality requirements applicable to their mediation. The circuit court then denied both Lexington and Cozen’s motion to dismiss the case without elaboration. On appeal, they filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or a writ of certiorari, arguing that the circuit court had exceeded its jurisdiction when it entertained an issue that had been pled by a party without standing, and had nevertheless been resolved in federal court.

The Court found that the Third District undid the trial court’s exercise of jurisdiction in denying Lexington’s and Cozen’s motions to dismiss based on an affirmative defense. In previous cases where the Court has found a writ of prohibition to be an appropriate remedy, it has not been deployed to reverse a trial court’s order on the merits of a case based on an affirmative
defense. Instead, the Court found that it was properly issued where a court has proposed to act in excess of its subject matter jurisdiction. Considering this procedural reality, along with the fact that the present writ was used to revisit the trial court’s weighing of an affirmative defense, led to its issuance being improper.

The Court quashed the decision and remanded to the Third District Court of Appeal with instructions to deny Lexington’s and Cozen’s claims for a writ of prohibition and adjudicate the arguments for certiorari that it previously declared moot.