Sims Crane & Equip. Co. v. Preciado, 1D21-2661

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtM.K. THOMAS, J.
PartiesSims Crane & Equipment Co., and Bridgefield Employers Insurance Company, Appellants, v. Alejandro Preciado, Appellee.
Docket Number1D21-2661
Decision Date12 October 2022

Sims Crane & Equipment Co., and Bridgefield Employers Insurance Company, Appellants,
v.

Alejandro Preciado, Appellee.

No. 1D21-2661

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

October 12, 2022


Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

Date of Accident: September 10, 2020.

On appeal from an order of the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims. Thomas Hedler, Judge.

H. George Kagan, Gulf Stream, and Robert B. Griffis, Maitland, for Appellants.

Bill McCabe, Longwood, and Brian P. Vassallo, West Palm Beach, for Appellee.

M.K. THOMAS, J.

In this workers' compensation case, the Employer/Carrier (E/C) appeals an order of the Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) vacating an arbitration determination that Alejandro Preciado (Claimant) was not entitled to benefits. Because the JCC lacked subject matter jurisdiction, we reverse.

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Facts

Claimant filed a Petition for Benefits (PFB) with the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims, requesting medical and indemnity benefits pursuant to chapter 440, Florida Statutes (2020). The E/C responded that the JCC had no jurisdiction over the PFB because the parties were bound by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), compelling resolution of the claims by arbitration. Claimant then voluntarily dismissed the PFB and filed a request for arbitration as required by the CBA. Following the arbitration hearing, a determination was entered denying all benefits. Four days later, Claimant filed a motion to modify or for rehearing with the arbitrator which was also denied.

Next, Claimant filed with DOAH a motion requesting the JCC to vacate the arbitration determination citing sections 682.13 and 440.1926, Florida Statutes (2020). The E/C responded that the JCC lacked jurisdiction to vacate an arbitration award but may have "jurisdiction to determine the lack of jurisdiction." Ultimately, the JCC determined that section 440.1926 conferred upon him subject matter jurisdiction over the motion. He vacated the arbitration determination and ordered rehearing before the same arbitrator "subject to the arbitrator's willingness and availability." This is the E/C's timely appeal.

Analysis

"Questions of statutory interpretation are reviewed by this Court de novo." Raymond James Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Phillips, 126 So.3d 186, 190 (Fla. 2013). Regarding jurisdiction, an appellate court may raise subject matter jurisdiction concerns sua sponte even where neither party raises the issue. Escambia Cnty. Sch. Bd. v. Warren, 337 So.3d 496, 498 (Fla. 1st DCA 2022) (citing Ruffin v. Kingswood E. Condo. Ass'n, Inc., 719 So.2d 951, 952 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998)); 84 Lumber Co. v. Cooper, 656 So.2d 1297, 1299 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994). Thus, "[c]ourts are bound to take notice of the limits of their authority and if want of jurisdiction appears at any stage of the proceedings, original or appellate, the court should notice the defect and enter an appropriate order." Polk Cnty. v. Sofka, 702 So.2d 1243, 1245 (Fla. 1997)

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(quoting W. 132 Feet v. City of Orlando, 86 So. 197, 198-99 (Fla. 1920)). "[T]he parties cannot stipulate to jurisdiction over the subject matter where none exists." Id. (quoting Cunningham v. Standard Guar. Ins. Co., 630 So.2d 179, 181 (Fla. 1994)).

Here, no PFB was pending before the JCC when Claimant filed the motion to vacate. Although Claimant initially filed a PFB, he voluntarily dismissed it and proceeded to arbitration as required by the CBA. "[T]his court has previously held that the Courts of Compensation Claims are not courts of general jurisdiction, and therefore do not have "general" jurisdiction over any subject matter beyond that specifically conferred by statute." Avalon Ctr. v. Hardaway, 967 So.2d 268, 272 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007) (citing Travelers Ins. Co. v. Sitko, 496 So.2d 920, 921-22 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986) ("We begin our analysis with the premise that workers' compensation is purely a creature of statute. All rights and liabilities under the system are created by chapter 440, Florida Statutes, as is the deputy's power to hear and determine issues in a workers' compensation case.")).

Dismissal of PFBs divests the JCC of jurisdiction. See Souza v. Truly Nolen, Inc., 199 So.3d 531, 532 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) (citing Cova v. Ostfeld, 994 So.2d 1162, 1162 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008) ("When all claims asserted through a petition for benefits are dismissed, the JCC loses jurisdiction to address those claims. 'Such dismissal divests a JCC of jurisdiction to take any further action in the case.'" (quoting Perez v. Winn-Dixie, 639 So.2d 109, 111 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994))). The loss of jurisdiction occurs even when the dismissal of the PFB is without prejudice. See Perez, 639 So.2d at 112. "The effect [of a voluntary dismissal] is to remove completely from the court's consideration the power to enter an order, equivalent in all respects to a deprivation of 'jurisdiction.'" Souza, 199 So.3d at 532-33 (quoting Randle-E. Ambulance Serv., Inc. v. Vasta, 360 So.2d 68, 69 (Fla. 1978)); see also Fla. Dep't of Transp. v. Rippy, 67 So.3d 1122, 1123 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) (holding JCC lacked jurisdiction to address E/C's motion for termination of benefits based on fraud because there was no pending PFB); Wojick v. State, Dep't of Child. & Fams., 75 So.3d 362, 363 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) (holding that in the absence of a pending petition for benefits, JCC lacked jurisdiction to compel claimant's attendance at a functional capacity evaluation);

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Polston v. Hurricane Island Outward Bound, 920 So.2d 766, 767 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006) (holding that in the absence of a pending petition, the JCC had no jurisdiction to entertain the E/C's motion to determine if the claimant had committed fraud).

Chapter 440 recognizes limited exceptions in which a JCC has jurisdiction over certain matters in the absence of a PFB. See Vazquez v. Romero, 179 So.3d 402, 404 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) (providing list of cases in which a JCC had jurisdiction in the absence of a PFB).[*] Most of the exceptions generally involve discovery requests or disputes. See Id. Additionally, although section 440.33(1), Florida Statutes, confers upon a JCC certain powers in the absence of a PFB, the statute is void of language

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encompassing...

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