136 So.3d 640 (Fla.App.2 Dist. 2013), 2D12-4537, Bellevue v. Frenchy's South Beach Cafe, Inc.

Docket Nº:2D12-4537
Citation:136 So.3d 640, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D 2537
Opinion Judge:BLACK, Judge.
Party Name:JENNIFER BELLEVUE, Appellant, v. FRENCHY'S SOUTH BEACH CAF
Attorney:Celene H. Humphries and Maegen P. Luka of Brannock & Humphries, Tampa; Cory A. Baird of Baird Law Group, Tampa; and Jeffery Gordon of Maney & Gordon, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant. John A. Guyton, III, Gregory D. Jones, and David P. Mitchell of Rywant, Alvarez, Jones, Russo & Guyton, P.A., Tampa, fo...
Judge Panel:BLACK, Judge. CASANUEVA, J., Concurs. ALTENBERND, J. Concurs with opinion. ALTENBERND, Judge, Concurring.
Case Date:December 04, 2013
Court:Florida Court of Appeals, Second District
 
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Page 640

136 So.3d 640 (Fla.App.2 Dist. 2013)

38 Fla. L. Weekly D 2537

JENNIFER BELLEVUE, Appellant,

v.

FRENCHY'S SOUTH BEACH CAFÉ, INC., Appellee

No. 2D12-4537

Florida Court of Appeal, Second District

December 4, 2013

Released for Publication February 7, 2014.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; George M. Jirotka, Judge.

Celene H. Humphries and Maegen P. Luka of Brannock & Humphries, Tampa; Cory A. Baird of Baird Law Group, Tampa; and Jeffery Gordon of Maney & Gordon, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant.

John A. Guyton, III, Gregory D. Jones, and David P. Mitchell of Rywant, Alvarez, Jones, Russo & Guyton, P.A., Tampa, for Appellee.

BLACK, Judge. CASANUEVA, J., Concurs. ALTENBERND, J. Concurs with opinion.

OPINION

Page 641

BLACK, Judge.

Jennifer Bellevue sued Frenchy's South Beach Café, Inc. (" Frenchy's" ), for personal injury damages that she sustained when she was attacked inside Frenchy's premises by one or more intoxicated patrons who had been consuming alcohol there for several hours prior to " last call" when the attack occurred. Before trial, following a hearing on Frenchy's motion in limine, the court ruled that only twelve of sixty prior incidents occurring in and around Frenchy's would be admissible at trial. Benefitting from the court's ruling,

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Frenchy's successfully advanced its principal defense that Frenchy's was a family restaurant and that the attack on Ms. Bellevue was unforeseeable. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Frenchy's. Because the trial court's ruling as to the admissibility of the prior incidents was contrary to Florida law, we reverse.

I. Background

Frenchy's is a popular restaurant and beach bar located in Clearwater just one block from the beach. On the night Ms. Bellevue was attacked she arrived at Frenchy's just before it closed, planning to give a ride home to her roommate, Shelly Kneuer, one of the bartenders. Testimony at trial established that a family of tourists from Ireland (" the Irish family" ) who had been drinking heavily and were rowdy and disorderly remained inside the restaurant. The only other people in the restaurant at this time were Ms. Bellevue's friend Christopher Malek, a manager named Jonathan Kirby, and Ms. Kneuer.

Just prior to the fight that resulted in Ms. Bellevue's injuries, words were exchanged between one of the Irish family members and Mr. Malek. The restaurant manager told Mr. Malek to let Ms. Kneuer, the bartender, handle the issue as he walked upstairs to begin his closeout routine for the night. This left Ms. Kneuer, a petite woman, as the only employee managing the escalating rowdiness. The verbal exchange intensified, and soon thereafter Ms. Kneuer was physically bumped or shoved by one of the Irish family members. Mr. Malek and Ms. Bellevue entered the fray, which became physically violent. By the time the police arrived, Ms. Bellevue had been severely beaten. The Irish family was arrested but subsequently jumped bail and left the country.

Ms. Bellevue filed suit against Frenchy's for her injuries. The essence of the complaint is that Frenchy's was on notice that its patrons had a propensity to become rowdy or violent and that it failed to maintain adequate security to protect its patrons.

II. Frenchy's Motion in Limine

Prior to trial, Frenchy's moved in limine to preclude Ms. Bellevue from introducing into evidence sixty incidents that occurred either in Frenchy's or near its premises. Frenchy's contended that these incidents were inadmissible because they were not similar crimes or were not probative of the issue of foreseeability. Ms. Bellevue argued that the incidents, which dated back four-and-a-half years prior to the subject attack, were relevant on the issue of whether the attack was reasonably foreseeable and whether Frenchy's took reasonable measures to prevent the attack. The incidents were obtained either from police reports or from Frenchy's management logs. It was Ms. Bellevue's intention to elicit testimony from her security expert that based upon the volume and nature of these prior incidents, Frenchy's was negligent in not taking adequate measures to protect against the type of attack suffered by Ms. Bellevue.

The court ruled that only those incidents " involving damage to persons or property" and " starting [on], ending [on], or involving the premises" would be admitted. As a result, only twelve of the sixty incidents were admitted. The court cited no case law in support of its ruling; however, the transcript of the motion in limine hearing reflects a misinterpretation of Florida law as to prior incidents which are probative of foreseeability.

III. Analysis

A. Case law

Generally, rulings on motions in limine are reviewed for an abuse of discretion.

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See, e.g., SourceTrack, LLC v. Ariba, Inc., 958 So.2d 523, 526 n.2 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007). However, because the court's ruling in this case was based upon an erroneous interpretation of the...

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