Barnes v. The Kellogg Co.

Decision Date25 April 2003
Docket NumberNo. 2D01-3775.,2D01-3775.
Citation846 So.2d 568
PartiesMaria BARNES, Appellant, v. THE KELLOGG COMPANY, a Michigan Corporation, and Albertson's, Inc., a Delaware Corporation, Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Scot E. Samis of Abbey, Adams, Byelick, Kieran, Mueller & Lancaster, L.L.P., St. Petersburg (withdrew after briefing), for Appellant.

Maria Barnes, pro se.

J. Gregory Giannuzzi of Rissman, Weisberg, Barrett, Hurt, Donahue & McLain, P.A., Tampa, for Appellees.

ALTENBERND, Chief Judge.

Maria Barnes appeals a judgment awarding attorneys' fees to The Kellogg Company and Albertson's, Inc., based on a proposal for settlement filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442 and section 768.79, Florida Statutes (1999). Ms. Barnes argues that the proposal was defective and will not support an award of fees because the two defendants made a unified offer to her, which prevented her from accepting the offer from one defendant or the other. We conclude that a unified offer was permissible under the facts of this case. Ms. Barnes sustained damages that could not be apportioned between the two defendants. Moreover, one defendant, the retailer, was strictly liable for the alleged latent manufacturing error of the other. In this situation, it is permissible for the defendants to propose a joint settlement, the terms of which contemplate a settlement with both.

In August 1997, Ms. Barnes filed a lawsuit against Kellogg and Albertson's alleging that she had suffered physical and psychological injuries because she inadvertently ate a bowl of cereal in September 1995 containing live insects. The complaint contained three counts. She sued both Kellogg and Albertson's for strict liability, alleging that the cereal was unfit for human consumption and that it was in the same condition when she ate it that it had been in when it left Kellogg, the manufacturer. She sued both defendants for breach of an implied warranty of merchantability. Finally, she sued Kellogg alone for negligent manufacture of the cereal.

Ms. Barnes did not allege that Albertson's committed any act of negligence. It merely sold her a box of cereal that contained insects as a result of the manufacturing process. The insects were a latent condition that Albertsons's could not discover because the insects were inside the sealed container. Although it played no active role in creating this condition, Albertson's, as the retailer, could be liable for such a box of cereal. See § 672.314, Fla. Stat. (1999); Sencer v. Carl's Mkts., Inc., 45 So.2d 671 (Fla.1950); Wagner v. Mars, Inc., 166 So.2d 673 (Fla. 2d DCA 1964).

Albertson's and Kellogg were represented by one attorney from the inception of this litigation. In December 1999, that attorney filed a proposal for settlement pursuant to rule 1.442 and section 768.79 in the amount of $95,000. The text of that proposal stated:

(A) This proposal is made by Defendants, the Kellogg Company, a Michigan Corporation, and Albertson's, Inc., to Plaintiff, Maria Barnes;
(B) This proposal is attempting to resolve all claims that are, or may be, made by Plaintiff in the instant action in which this proposal is made and as alleged by Plaintiff's pending complaint, or that could be raised by Plaintiff as arising out of the incident or incidents which are the subject of Plaintiff's complaint;
(C) The relevant conditions of this proposal are that Plaintiff will execute a general release of all claims against any and all persons or entities, inclusive of a warranty that there are no outstanding medical or attorney or other forms of liens and inclusive of a hold harmless against any such claim asserting such liens;
(D) Defendants propose settlement to occur upon payment by Defendants to Plaintiff in the total sum of $95,000.00 and that there are no non-monetary terms of this proposal, with the exception of any relevant conditions set forth in paragraph (C) above;
(E) There is currently no pending claim for punitive damages; however, the amount set forth in (D) is deemed to include consideration for the payment of any potential claim for punitive damages; and
(F) This proposal is to include any attorney's fees and costs of the Plaintiff and attorney's fees are/are not[1] part of the legal claim.

Ms. Barnes did not accept this proposal. In September 2000, the trial court ultimately dismissed her action with prejudice because it determined that Ms. Barnes had committed a fraud upon the court. This court affirmed that decision in an earlier appeal. See Barnes v. Kellogg Co., 825 So.2d 376 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (table decision).2

Shortly after the trial court entered the order of dismissal, the defendants filed a motion for costs and fees. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined that the facts in this case permitted a joint proposal for settlement without requiring the proponents to apportion the amount between them. Accordingly, it entered judgment against Ms. Barnes in the total amount of $45,779. She challenges the portion of the judgment that awarded attorneys' fees.3

Rule 1.442(c)(3) provides:
A proposal may be made by or to any party or parties and by or to any combination of parties properly identified in the proposal. A joint proposal shall state the amount and terms attributable to each party.

Thus, a proposal may be made to a party by "any combination of parties" as long as those parties are properly identified in the proposal. Although the joint proposal must state the amount and the terms of the proposal "attributable to each party," nothing in the rule prohibits two defendants from making a joint proposal to one plaintiff in which the amount of the settlement is attributed jointly and severally to both defendants and where the terms of the proposal contemplate that both defendants will be dismissed with prejudice from the lawsuit.

It is well established that the offer of judgment statute and the related rule must be strictly construed because they are in derogation of common law. See Willis Shaw Express, Inc. v. Hilyer Sod, Inc., 28 Fla. L. Weekly S225, S225, 2003 WL 1089304, ___ So.2d ____, ____ (Fla. Mar. 13, 2003). As a result, virtually any proposal that is ambiguous is not enforceable. See, e.g., Twiddy v. Guttenplan, 678 So.2d 488 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996)

. A proposal to two or more plaintiffs who each have a claim for their own separate damages is normally unenforceable because it requires them to aggregate their damages or settle their separate claims in some collective fashion. See Allstate Indem. Co. v. Hingson, 808 So.2d 197 (Fla. 2002); Allstate Ins. Co. v. Materiale, 787 So.2d 173 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001). Likewise, a proposal from two or more plaintiffs who each have a claim for their own separate damages is normally unenforceable. See Hilyer Sod, 28 Fla. L. Weekly at S225, ___ So.2d at ____. A plaintiff's collective proposal to two or more defendants who have varying degrees of liability and may have rights to contribution between or among one another is also unenforceable. See C & S Chems., Inc. v. McDougald, 754 So.2d 795 (...

To continue reading

Request your trial
20 cases
  • Goldman v. Campbell
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • March 1, 2006
    ...its plain meaning authorized fees only in actions for wages and Peña had sued for reinstatement. 5. See also Barnes v. Kellogg Co., 846 So.2d 568, 571 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) ("It is well established that the offer of judgment statute and the related rule must be strictly construed because they ......
  • Cobb v. Durando
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • April 17, 2013
    ...record at determining when joint or separate proposals are required under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442. See Barnes v. Kellogg Co., 846 So.2d 568 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), disapproved of by Lamb v. Matetzschk, 906 So.2d 1037 (Fla.2005); RDR Computer Consulting Corp. v. Eurodirect, Inc., 8......
  • D.A.B. Constructors, Inc. v. Oliver
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • October 21, 2005
    ...the Florida Supreme Court recently reviewed this court's decision in Matetzschk which had certified conflict with Barnes v. The Kellogg Co., 846 So.2d 568 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003). Barnes involved the same scenario as this case — two defendants, jointly liable, who made an undifferentiated offer ......
  • Hall v. Lexington Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • February 16, 2005
    ...unified verdict form for the damages. Furthermore, the judgment entered against the Halls was joint and several. See Barnes v. Kellogg, 846 So.2d 568, 572 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003); Crowley v. Sunny's Plants, Inc., 710 So.2d 219, 221 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998). This case is distinguishable from Hilyer Sod......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Drafting and analyzing joint proposals for settlement.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 80 No. 1, January 2006
    • January 1, 2006
    ...Supreme Court reviewed Matetzschk v. Lamb, 849 So.2d 1141 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) which certified conflict with Barnes v. Kellogg Co., 846 So.2d 568 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003). It disapproved Barnes and held that the plain language of Rule 1.442 mandates that offers of settlement be differentiated betw......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT