538 So.2d 454 (Fla. 1989), 71817, Ault v. Lohr

Docket Nº:71817.
Citation:538 So.2d 454, 14 Fla. L. Weekly 56, 14 Fla. L. Weekly 59
Opinion Judge:Author: Overton
Party Name:Ken AULT, Defendant-Appellant, v. Roy LOHR, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees.
Attorney:Keith C. Tischler of Parker, Skelding, McVoy & Labasky, Tallahassee, Florida, for Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:February 02, 1989
Court:Supreme Court of Florida
 
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Page 454

538 So.2d 454 (Fla. 1989)

14 Fla. L. Weekly 56, 14 Fla. L. Weekly 59

Ken AULT, Defendant-Appellant,

v.

Roy LOHR, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees.

No. 71817.

Supreme Court of Florida.

February 2, 1989

Keith C. Tischler of Parker, Skelding, McVoy & Labasky, Tallahassee, for defendant-appellant.

Salvatore Scibetta and Evan I. Fetterman of the Law Offices of Fetterman and Associates, North Palm Beach, for plaintiffs-appellees.

OVERTON, Justice.

This case is before us on the following question certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Lohr v. Florida Department of Corrections, 835 F.2d 1402 (11th Cir.1988):

In Florida, must a compensatory damages award underlie a punitive damages award in a case in which the jury has

Page 455

made express findings against a defendant?

Id. at 1403. 1 We answer the question in the negative, concluding that a jury finding of liability is the equivalent of finding nominal damages and, consequently, the jury may assess punitive damages.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals set forth the relevant facts as follows:

In March, 1984, appellees Roy Lohr and Larry Randolph, inmates at Martin Vocational Center in Martin County, Florida, attempted to escape from the Vocational Center. Due to mitigating circumstances unrelated to this case, both plaintiffs were acquitted of the crime of escape before a Circuit Court of Martin County.

Lohr and Randolph were recaptured by defendant Ken Ault, an officer with the Martin County Sheriffs office, and his canine, Bear.

Lohr and Randolph maintain that Ault handcuffed them, forced them to lie on the ground, and ordered Bear to bite and scratch them. Lohr and Randolph sued Ault, asserting a state claim of assault and battery and a federal claim of a violation of their constitutional rights. In answering special verdict questions posed by the judge, the jury specifically found that Ault had committed an assault and battery on Lohr, but that Ault had not violated Lohr's civil rights. The jury awarded Lohr $0 in compensatory damages, but $5,000 in punitive damages. The jury determined that Ault had both assaulted and battered Randolph and violated his civil rights. Accordingly, the jury awarded Randolph $10,000 in compensatory damages and $30,000 in punitive damages.

Id. at 1403.

In considering the limitations in assessing punitive damages, Florida's district courts of appeal clearly disagree in their interpretations of McLain v. Pensacola Coach Corp., 152 Fla. 876, 13 So.2d 221 (1943), and Lassiter v. International Union of Operating Engineers, 349 So.2d 622 (Fla.1976). In McLain, we quoted with approval 4 Am.Jur. 219, which stated:

"The general rule that exemplary or punitive damages are not...

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