ALEXANDER RODRIGUEZ, vs CONSTANTINE SCURTIS, et al.,

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Third District Court of Appeal State of Florida Opinion filed October 21, 2020. Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing. ________________ No. 3D20-890 Lower Tribunal No. 14-31805 ________________ Alexander Rodriguez, Petitioner, vs. Constantine Scurtis, et al., Respondents. A Writ of Certiorari to the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Maria de Jesus Santovenia, Judge. John C. Lukacs, P.A., and John C. Lukacs, Sr., for petitioner. Dorta Law, and Gonzalo R. Dorta and Matias R. Dorta, for respondents. Before EMAS, C.J., and HENDON and LOBREE, JJ. PER CURIAM. Petitioner Alexander Rodriguez (the defendant below) seeks certiorari review of the trial court’s order granting the motion of respondents Constantine Scurtis, ACREI, LLC, and ACREI-II, LLC (the plaintiffs below) to amend their operative complaint to add a claim for punitive damages. We grant the petition and quash the order on review because that order, on its face, relies upon and applies the standard for an appellate court reviewing such an order, rather than the standard for a trial court determining in the first instance whether to grant leave to amend to add a punitive damages claim pursuant to section 768.72, Florida Statutes (2020). The trial court’s order states, in pertinent part: In construing a motion for leave to assert punitive damages under § 768.72, Fla. Stat., this court is restricted to determining whether the statutory procedural requirements of § 768.72, Fla. Stat. have been met by the Plaintiffs. See Robins v. Colombo, 253 So. 3d 94 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018). The above excerpt represents the standard applied by an appellate court in reviewing the trial court’s order granting leave to amend to add a claim for punitive damages. As we noted in Robins, 253 So. 3d at 95-96, the very case cited by the trial court in its order: As a general rule, a petitioner seeking certiorari relief must establish that the trial court's nonfinal order “departs from the essential requirements of law and thus causes material injury to the petitioner throughout the remainder of the proceedings, effectively leaving no adequate remedy on appeal.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Langston, 655 So. 2d 91, 95 (Fla. 1995); Robles v. Baptist Health South Florida, Inc., 197 So. 3d 1196, 1199 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016). In applying this standard of review to an order granting leave to amend a complaint to add a 2 claim for punitive damages, we limit our review to whether the procedural requirements of section 768.72 have been followed. Globe Newspaper Co. v. King, 658 So. 2d 518 (Fla. 1995); SAP Am., Inc. v. Royal Flowers, Inc., 187 So. 3d 946 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016). As we acknowledged in SAP, 187 So. 3d at 946, “an appellate court lacks certiorari jurisdiction to review the sufficiency of the evidence considered by the trial court in granting leave to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages.” See also Globe, 658 So. 2d at 520 (finding that certiorari may not be granted to review a trial judge's determination of the sufficiency of the ultimate facts pleading a claim for punitive damages). Moreover, this court is not permitted to reweigh a trial court's finding of a sufficient evidentiary basis for a punitive damages claim, and “such a finding could not be disturbed, or even evaluated on certiorari review.” Espirito Santo Bank v. Rego, 990 So. 2d 1088, 1091 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007). (Emphasis added.) Given the language of the trial court’s order, 1 we are constrained to conclude that the trial court applied the incorrect legal standard and therefore failed to follow the procedural requirements of section 768.72, resulting in a departure from the essential requirements of the law. See Globe Newspaper Co. v. King, 658 So. 2d 518 (Fla. 1995) (holding that certiorari review of such orders is limited to determining whether the trial court followed the procedural requirements of section 768.72). We therefore grant the petition, quash the order granting plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend complaint to add a punitive damages claim, and remand to the trial 1 It appears from the record that this language in the order was proposed by plaintiffs and adopted by the trial court. 3 court for further proceedings, which shall include applying the correct legal standard to a determination of whether to grant the motion for leave to amend complaint to add punitive damages claim. We express no opinion on the merits of the motion. Petition granted. 4

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