Friedel v. Edwards, 2D20-2233

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Citation327 So.3d 1242
Docket NumberNo. 2D20-2233,2D20-2233
Parties Linda FRIEDEL, Appellant, v. Elizabeth EDWARDS, Appellee.
Decision Date29 September 2021

327 So.3d 1242

Linda FRIEDEL, Appellant,
Elizabeth EDWARDS, Appellee.

No. 2D20-2233

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District.

September 29, 2021

Alexander Brockmeyer, Molly Brockmeyer and Mark Boyle of Boyle, Leonard & Anderson, P.A., Fort Myers, for Appellant.

Jesse R. Butler of Dickinson & Gibbons, P.A., Sarasota, for Appellee.

LUCAS, Judge.

Elizabeth Edwards was involved in a car accident with Linda Friedel on December 1, 2015. Ms. Friedel filed a negligence complaint against Ms. Edwards in the Lee County Circuit Court. The lawsuit, however, was not filed until February 15, 2019; and as it happened, Ms. Edwards had passed away some three months earlier.

On December 17, 2019, the circuit court entered an order removing the now-deceased Ms. Edwards and substituting Scott Kuhn, Esq., as the personal representative for the Estate of Elizabeth Edwards (Estate). According to the court's order, Mr. Kuhn agreed to accept service on behalf of the estate and respond to Ms. Friedel's complaint within twenty days of service.

The Estate eventually moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the

327 So.3d 1244

action. Its argument ran as follows: since the complaint named a deceased person as the defendant, and since an action cannot proceed against a deceased person, the complaint was a "legal nullity," and, therefore, the court had no jurisdiction to proceed upon it. Furthermore, the Estate maintained, Ms. Friedel's complaint could not be amended and relate back to the original filing because "th[e] action was and is invalid, .... the four-year time limit in which to bring this action has expired[, and] [t]he court in Staines [ v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 239 So. 3d 164 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018),] held that without jurisdiction, no basis existed in which the relation back doctrine could apply."1 Thus, according to the Estate, Ms. Friedel was barred from seeking recovery on her negligence claim.

The circuit court agreed and entered an order deeming "the Complaint void as a matter of law" in that it failed to confer jurisdiction upon the court. Because the statute of limitations had run, and the relation back provision of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(c) "was inapplicable," the court dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

Ms. Friedel has brought this timely appeal.

We review a circuit court's determination of subject matter jurisdiction de novo. See Artz ex rel. Artz v. City of Tampa , 102 So. 3d 747, 749 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012). Whether a proposed amended complaint should be permitted and whether it should relate back to a prior filing under rule 1.190(c) is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Bosco v. Glob. Props. of Naples, LLC , 319 So. 3d 181, 183 (Fla. 2d DCA 2021) ; Est. of Eisen v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. , 126 So. 3d 323, 327, 336 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013). In both respects, the circuit court erred.

First, the complaint that was filed was not a "legal nullity." To the contrary, Ms. Friedel asserted a tried-and-true cause of action in negligence, alleged a sufficient amount in controversy for the circuit court's jurisdiction, detailed sufficient factual allegations to satisfy our state's fact pleading standard, and included a demand for judgment. That is all that is required to begin a negligence lawsuit. See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.110(b). "The pleading threshold to invoke the subject matter jurisdiction of the circuit court when the complaint is one for money damages is not high." Foley v. Wilson , 126 So. 3d 340, 341 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013). It may have been improper to name the late Ms. Edwards personally as a party defendant in the initial complaint, but a factual discrepancy of that nature does not render a pleading "void ab initio" any more than if the evidence were to show that Ms. Edwards had not, in fact, been negligent, or that Ms. Friedel's damages had not, in fact, arisen to the circuit court's jurisdictional threshold.

The circuit court concluded to the contrary because of a discrete (and, as yet, unsettled) vein of civil law concerning deceased plaintiffs in civil actions. The First District has held that the filing of a civil complaint in the name of a deceased plaintiff should be considered a legal nullity. See In re 73 Engle-Related Cases , 239 So. 3d 166, 168-69 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) ("The lawsuits filed here were nullities because a dead person cannot file and maintain a lawsuit. ... [P]laintiffs' counsel had no authority to file and maintain these cases

327 So.3d 1245

on behalf of the dead plaintiffs."). While the premises the First District recited are well founded, our district has never addressed what the legal effect of filing a complaint on behalf of a predeceased plaintiff ought to be. There is perhaps an arguable justification for tethering a predeceased plaintiff's status to subject matter jurisdiction because civil lawsuits—and, hence, a civil court's...

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3 cases
  • In re Proton-Pump Inhibitor Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. II)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • December 22, 2022
    ...No. 2:18-cv-17034 (citing Thomas v. Grayson, 456 S.E.2d 377 (S.C. 1995)); Civil Action No. 2:19-cv-16553 (citing Friedel v. Edwards, 327 So.3d 1242 (Fla. 2d Dist. App. 2021)). However, the cases cited are inapposite. The issue here is whether complaints asserting personal injury legally exi......
  • Hall v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 29, 2021
    ...v. State , 723 So. 2d 388 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999) ); McGlamory , 723 So. 2d at 388–89 ("We find no error in the trial court's determination 327 So.3d 1242 that McGlamory's conduct constituted contempt of court," but "we reverse McGlamory's criminal contempt order and remand the case with directi......
  • Colon-Perez v. Lindenberger
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • November 12, 2021
    ...Bekki Lindenberger to amend the complaint and properly name the Estate as a party, we affirm. See generally Friedel v. Edwards , 327 So.3d 1242 (Fla. 2d DCA Sept. 29, 2021).We do not address the Estate's alternative argument that the trial court erred in denying the Estate's motion to dismi......

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