On March 15, 2017, in Duarte v. Snap-On, Incorporated, Case No. 2D15-1952, the Florida Second DCA reversed the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for fraud upon the court in certain answers he provided in deposition about his injuries from an accident subsequent to the accident at issue in the case. The Second DCA ruled that the plaintiff’s alleged fraud upon the trial court, which consisted of allegedly willfully false omissions and minimizations in his testimony about the severity of the subsequent accident and his medical treatment for the accident, had not been sufficiently proven during the proceedings before the trial court. The plaintiff in the case was not a native English speaker and there was no dispute that the defendant was liable for the first accident and that it had involved significant injuries. The trial court heard the motion and made its decision without taking any evidence, simply relying on attachents to the motions and taking a proffer from the plaintiff that he did not speak or read English and suffered from memory deficiencies due to age and medications. These factors all appear to have played a significant role in the reversal.
On review for abuse of discretion, the Second DCA observed that the trial court has the inherent authority to dismiss a suit when the plaintiff commits a fraud on the court and the movant proves his or her case by clear and convincing evidence. Myrick v. Direct Gen. Ins. Co., 932 So. 2d 392, 392 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006). However, the Court also quoted Howard v. Risch, 959 So. 2d 308, 310 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007), distinguished on other grounds by Ramey v. Haverty Furniture Cos., 993 So. 2d 1014 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008), for the proposition that “because dismissal is the most severe of all possible sanctions… it should be employed only in extreme circumstances."). The Second DCA observed that when a trial court rules without hearing evidence, the decision is given less deference, citing Jacob v. Henderson, 840 So. 2d 1167, 1169 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), distinguished on other grounds by Ramey, 993 So. 2d 1014; Ruiz v. City of Orlando, 859 So. 2d 574, 576 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) (reversing dismissal for fraud on the court). The Second DCA also quoted Cox v. Burke, 706 So. 2d 43, 46 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998) in holding that the movant must show that his or her opponent "sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system's ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party's claim or defense." Quoting again from Howard v. Risch, 959 So. 2d at 311, the Second DCA stated that "[g]enerally, unless it appears that the process of trial has itself been subverted, factual inconsistencies or even false statements are well managed through the use of impeachment at trial or other traditional discovery sanctions, not through dismissal of a possibly meritorious claim."