Newsroom | 02.21.2022 l Firm Announcements

Florida Court Authorizes Interlocutory Appeals of Orders Granting or Denying Leave to Amend a Complaint for Punitive Damages

Broadly speaking, there are two types of appeals: (i) those seeking relief from final orders, and (ii) those seeking review of non-final (i.e., interlocutory) orders. The latter are governed by Fla. R. App. P. 9.130, which enumerates the limited circumstances under which interlocutory appeal is appropriate.

Notably, on January 6, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court amended Fla. R. App. P. 9.130 to authorize interlocutory appeals of orders granting or denying leave to amend a complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. The aforementioned revision of Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3) is significant for several reasons.

Under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, plaintiffs may not initially include claims for punitive damages in their complaint. Rather, Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.190(f) requires that plaintiffs move for leave to amend their complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages; plaintiffs must show by evidence in the record or by proffered evidence that a reasonable basis exists for recovery of such damages.

Currently, relief from a trial court’s ruling on a plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages generally requires filing a petition for writ of certiorari—which, in turn, is only granted when the petitioner establishes a departure from the essential requirements of law and material injury that cannot be remedied on post-judgment appeal. However, as amended, Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3) allows parties to appeal, as a matter of right, a trial court’s order on such motions.

As discussed in Justice Labarga’s dissent, the amendment to Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3) may result in “delays in civil actions with claims for punitive damages,” as “[o]nce the trial court’s ruling is appealed, the case will necessarily stall at the trial level until the district court renders a ruling on whether the claim for punitive damages was properly permitted.” Justice Labarga anticipates that to avoid delays in bringing cases to their final resolution, some plaintiffs may forego claims for punitive damages.

The amendment to Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3) takes effect on April 1, 2022.