Appel v. Scott, s. 84-2667

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Citation479 So.2d 800,10 Fla. L. Weekly 2706
Decision Date06 December 1985
Docket Number85-2223,Nos. 84-2667,s. 84-2667
Parties10 Fla. L. Weekly 2706 Mr. & Mrs. Dale APPEL, et al., Appellants, v. John SCOTT and Catherine Scott, his wife, and George Scott, Appellees. Mr. & Mrs. Helge AHNFORS, Appellants, v. John SCOTT and Catherine Scott, his wife, and George Scott, Appellees.

John T. Allen of John T. Allen, P.A., St. Petersburg, and Ronald L. Clark, Lakeland, for appellants.

Jerry A. DeVane of DeVane, Munson & Allen, Lakeland, for appellees.

RYDER, Chief Judge.

The appellants/plaintiffs appeal a final order in which the court granted the Scotts' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Count I of the appellants' complaint. We reverse.

In April of 1984, over forty mobile home tenants of Flamingo Shores Mobile Home Park in Winter Haven filed a complaint against John, Catherine and George Scott, the owners of the park. The complaint was subsequently amended. The complaint stated that it was an action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, chapter 86, Florida Statutes (1983), to determine their rights and obligations under chapter 83, part III, Florida Statutes (1983), and its successor statute, chapter 723 (1984 Supp.), as it may be applicable, entitled "The Florida Mobile Home Landlord and Tenant Act." The tenants alleged that they each owned a mobile home and leased a lot from the Scotts, but no written leases existed. Over a three-month period in 1984, the Scotts increased the rent by 39.4%. This increase was unconscionable, because mobile homes are difficult and expensive to move. Because the tenants could not realistically move their homes, they are in a relatively unfair bargaining position with the Scotts. The increased rentals were in excess of the rental value of the property, were not founded upon any legitimate financial basis, and are arbitrary, capricious and confiscatory. The increases are grossly excessive when compared with rents charged by similarly situated mobile home parks in the county. The tenants believed the increases were unconscionable mobile home lot rental agreements in violation of section 83.754 and its successor statute, section 723.033. Therefore, the tenants are entitled to a judgment prohibiting the enforcement of the rental increases. Because there was a bona fide dispute over whether the rental agreements were unconscionable, the tenants demanded a declaratory judgment adjudicating the rights and obligations of the parties.

In their answer, the Scotts admitted, among other things, that no written leases existed; that they had increased the rent by $35.00 per lot. However, the Scotts stated that the tenants had chosen to continue to reside in the park and had, therefore, impliedly agreed to pay the rental increases.

The Scotts filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. In the motion, they argued, among other things, that under the case law it is within the discretion of the court to grant declaratory relief. Any doubts, uncertainty or insecurity forming the basis for a declaratory decree must arise from the facts and circumstances creating them and not merely from the state of mind of the plaintiff. The Scotts then argued that the appellants had failed to allege any facts which would give rise to any doubt as to their rights or obligations. Under the Park's rules and regulations, the management had the right to amend and add any fee. Because there was no doubt as to the clear and unambiguous meaning of the oral leases, the complaint failed to state a cause of action for declaratory relief. The Scotts also alleged that the appellants had failed to allege sufficient facts to show both procedural and substantive unconscionability.

There is no evidence in the record to indicate that the court held a hearing on the Scott's motion. The court subsequently entered an order which granted the Scott's motion for judgment on the pleadings to Count I of the complaint. In its order, the court did not state whether the judgment was based upon the reasoning that the complaint failed to establish the jurisdiction of the court by sufficiently establishing the tenants' right to declaratory relief, or whether the judge ruled on the merits of the tenants' claim. Under either ground, the judgment in favor of the Scotts was error.

When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court's sole inquiry is whether the complaint stated a cause of action. Butts v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 207 So.2d 73, 75 (Fla. 3d DCA 1968); Adams Engineering Co., Inc. v. Construction Products Corp., 158 So.2d 559, 560 (Fla. 3d DCA 1963). When considering such a motion, all material allegations of the opposing party are taken as true, and all of the movant's allegations in the answer are deemed denied. Butts, 207 So.2d at 75. A defendant may not obtain a judgment on the pleadings on the basis of allegations in his answer where a reply was not required or ordered by the court. Glidden Co. v. Zuckerman, 245 So.2d 639, 640 (Fla. 3d DCA 1971); City of Pompano Beach v. Oltman, 228 So.2d 610 (Fla. 4th DCA 1969); Miller v. Eatmon, 177 So.2d 523, 524 (Fla. 1st DCA 1965). There is no evidence in the record before us that the court ever ordered the appellants to reply to the allegations in the appellees' answer. Therefore, the court had to consider the appellees' allegations denied and consider only the allegations of the appellants' complaint. Thus, the court's only inquiry at this point was whether the appellants sufficiently invoked the court's jurisdiction for a declaratory judgment action.

In order to invoke jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act, the complaint must show that there is a bona fide, actual, present and practical need for the declaration; that the declaration will deal with present, ascertained or ascertainable state of facts, or present controversy as to a state of facts; that some immunity, power, privilege or right is dependent upon facts or law applicable to facts; that there is some person or persons who have, or reasonably may have, an actual, present, adverse and antagonistic interest in the subject matter, either in fact or law; that the antagonistic and adverse interests are all before the court; and that the relief sought is not merely the giving of legal advice by the courts or the answers to questions propounded from curiosity. Bell v. Associated Independents, Inc., 143 So.2d 904, 908 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962); Platt v. General Development Corp., 122 So.2d 48 (Fla. 2d DCA 1960), cert. dismissed, 129 So.2d 143 (Fla.1961). The test of the sufficiency of a complaint for declaratory action is not whether the complaint shows that plaintiff will succeed in getting a declaration of right in accordance with his theory and contention, but whether he is entitled to a declaration of rights at all. Modernage Furniture Corp. v. Miami Rug Co., 84 So.2d 916 (Fla.1955) (emphasis added). See also Mills v. Ball, 344 So.2d 635, 638 (Fla. 1st DCA 1977), Talcott v. Central Bank and Trust Co., 220 So.2d 411, 412 (Fla. 3d DCA 1969); Broward County v. Lerer, 203 So.2d 672, 673 (Fla. 4th DCA 1967); Tulip Realty Co. of Florida, Inc. v. Fuhrer, 155 So.2d 637, 641 (Fla. 2d DCA 1963); Platt, 122 So.2d at 50. The possibility that the court will rule adversely to the plaintiff on the merits does not preclude the right to a declaratory decree. Talcott, 220 So.2d at 413. Therefore, a final adjudication of a declaratory judgment action on a defendant's motion is appropriate only where the complaint does not present a matter for determination by declaratory judgment. Cf. Hildebrandt v. Department of Natural...

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10 cases
  • Belcher v. Kier, 88-02373
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 2, 1990
    ...of the mobile home owner's property. B.J. Pearce v. Doral Mobile Home Villas, Inc., 521 So.2d 282 (Fla. 2d DCA 1988); Appel v. Scott, 479 So.2d 800 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985); Offner v. Keller Park Investors, I, Ltd., 19 Fla.Supp.2d 140 (Fla. 6th Cir.Ct.1986); Fredricks v. Hofmann, 45 Fla.Supp. 44 ......
  • Conley v. Morley Realty Corp., 88-3014
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 12, 1991
    ...about the enforceability of the liquidated damages clause, a matter which is appropriate for declaratory judgment. See Appel v. Scott, 479 So.2d 800, 803 (Fla.2d DCA 1985) (enforceability of rental increases proper subject for declaratory judgment); Rice v. Fremow, 165 So.2d 447 (Fla.2d DCA......
  • U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. Adt Sec. Servs., Inc., 2D12–1956.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • January 22, 2014
    ...and “the court's sole inquiry is whether the complaint states a cause of action,” Hammond, 522 So.2d at 522 (citing Appel v. Scott, 479 So.2d 800 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985)).5 If a party refers to a document within the complaint, a trial court may rely on that document to determine the nature of th......
  • Hyman v. Ocean Optique Distributors, Inc., 98-984.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 2, 1999
    ...575 So.2d 253, 255 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991); Weatherford v. City of Hialeah, 537 So.2d 680, 681-82 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Appel v. Scott, 479 So.2d 800, 803 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985); Local 532 of the Am. Fed'n of State, County, and Mun. Employees, AFL-CIO v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 273 So.2d 441, 442 (Fl......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Procedural remedies
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Florida Causes of Action
    • April 1, 2022
    ...So.3d 1034, 1037 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019). 4. Francis v. City of St. Petersburg , 640 So.2d 149, 151 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994). 5. Appel v. Scott , 479 So.2d 800, 802 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985). 6. Florida State Board of Dispensing Opticians v. Bayne , 204 So.2d 34, 37 (Fla. 2d DCA 1967), quashed on other groun......

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