Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Helfenbein v. Baval

Helfenbein v. Baval, 157 So.3d 531 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), 2015 WL 669595

This decision deals with the validity of a will of which one of the witnesses signed an affidavit stating that he did not sign the will in the presence of the other witnesses.  The Court reversed the trial court's summary judgment which found that the will was not facially invalid because the trial court only considered the validity of the self-proving affidavit, and not the validity of the signatures of the witnesses to the actual will.  First, the Court held that the witness's allegation that he did not sign in the presence of another witness creates a genuine issue of material fact as to the whether the will was initially executed in conformity with F.S. 732.502.  Second, it held that the signatures on the self-proving clause were problematic, since the notarized paragraph lists four people, and only three people actually signed.  This raised an issue of the veracity of the three signers who swore that all four people were there when they signed.  

Lyons v. Lyons

Lyons v. Lyons: 162 So. 3d 212 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), 2015 WL 543106

While this opinion came about because of a trust contest among family members, the decision relates to broader principles of discovery relevant for all litigators.  The case centered around a privilege objection to the production of documents from the trust accountant, a nonparty, pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.351.  The Court held that under the amended Rule 1.351, an objection does not automatically trigger a deposition pursuant to Rule 1.310, and instead, the court has the ability to rule on the objection.  A court is required to rule on any claim of privilege, and should conduct an in camera inspection prior to production of the privileged documents.  The trial court has discretion to fashion the process to deal with the production of documents, and here, where the trial court entered an order providing a procedure for the accountant to gather the documents, for review of the documents, and for an in camera review of the documents claimed to be privilege, the Appellate Court found the trial court's procedure sufficient to protect the privileged documents. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Silveira v.Quiroga

Silveira v. Quiroga, 156 So.3d 574 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015), 2015 WL 350723

This case involved a dispute between a ward's next of kin, her sister, and her court-appointed guardian, the Guardianship Program of Dade County, Inc. ("GDPC").  The court appointed GDPC as the guardian, despite the fact that the sister had filed a notice of unavailability for the date of the hearing on the petition to determine incapacity and for appointment of a guardian.  The record did not explain why the court appointed GDPC when the sister was willing and able to act as guardian.  Following the appointment of GDPC as guardian, the sister filed numerous pro se motions seeking to be appointed as her sister's guardian, but her motions were procedurally deficient.  The court eventually entered an order requiring the sister to hire an attorney and directing the clerk to accept no further pleadings from her.  

On appeal, the Court held that the sister was not required to hire an attorney under Fla. Prob. R. 5.030(a), since she had not yet been appointed as a guardian.  The Court also held that even though the trial court has the inherent authority to prevent abusive litigants from continuously filing frivolous petitions, the sister's actions had not yet risen to the point that she should be precluded from filing further pleadings.  As a result, the Court quashed the trial court's order requiring the sister to retain counsel and directing the court to accept no further pleadings from her.  The Court did, however, warn the sister that pro se litigants are not to be held to a lesser standard than a reasonably competent attorney, and that if she opts to file further pro se pleadings, they must sufficiently comply with the applicable statutes and procedural rules.