The Florida Supreme Court decides remarkably few civil decisions, and even fewer commercial ones. Its docket is dominated by review of death-penalty decisions and updating rules of procedure.
A few cases were handed down as 2016 came to an end that, while not directly applicable to our area of law, deserve mention in this blog.
All About the Kids
The Florida Supremes were solicitous toward children, and perhaps less so to some parental rights.
Once grounds for termination of parental rights have been properly established, it held, the court may move on to adoption proceedings for the child. It needs not consider options giving the birth parents rights to an ill-defined “occasional presence” in the child’s future life.
It also considered a court order limiting a father’s visitation right. The lower court kept jurisdiction to modify its order later if circumstances warrant it. That made the order not appealable as of right.
This latter case could foreshadow bigger changes. On its face, it seems to allow parties to insulate an order from appellate review with one quick sentence reserving jurisdiction. Already one court declined to apply this case in another area of law (foreclosures in that case). Whether this will start a trend limiting the ruling to visitation orders or whether the case will have a vast impact on Florida law remains to be determined.
Law and Order – the Prosecution Wins Again
Criminal defendants did not fare well last quarter.
In rape cases, multiple sex acts in the course a single attack can constitute separate crimes, the Supreme Court held. This means that if the defendant is found guilty, he may be convicted of several counts for one attack. This can vastly increase the sentence. (The Florida Supreme Court rejected that it would twice put the defendant in jeopardy for a single act, in violation of Double Jeopardy.)
If a Defendant charged with a crime leaves the state, their absence tolls the statute of limitation. This means the State can prosecute years later. The issue came up in the case of a service member accused of producing child pornography (there are bad apples everywhere). He was preparing for deployment then spent the next 4 years out of Florida. The Supreme Court ruled that his mere absence tolled the statute of limitation. The state had no duty to make extraordinary (or any) effort to bring him back. The defendant was duly prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to about 3½ years in prison.
Throwing Away the Keys
Things do not improve when defendants become convicted felons and serve time.
The Florida Supreme Court approved clearing up jury instructions in cases of escape. They made it obvious that escape from any lawful detainment – not just from prison – triggers the statute.
Similarly, Florida’s Supremes also held that a prisoner was guilty of escape when he was on a work-release program and left his assigned work. It matters not whether he left the side of the road or his prison cell. He still escaped.
Mixed News for the Medical Profession
We should surely be thankful that the medical profession fared better than accused criminals in front of Florida’s Supremes. But news were mixed in the health world.
The Florida Supreme Court clarified if and when a physician could be sued for malpractice if an outpatient commits suicide. It held that while there is no “duty to prevent suicide” per se, there is always a duty to provide proper medical care generally, and it was up to the jury to decide whether that duty was breached.
The other medically related case occurred when a son put his father in a nursing home. Son signed the contract. Dad signed nothing. Unless the record proves that the son was acting as his father’s representative, dad will not be bound by the contract. It seems obvious enough, but nursing homes had tried all kinds of arguments to palliate not having the right paperwork in place. The Florida Supremes just closed the door on some of them.