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Florida First DCA rules that trial court’s limitation of voir dire questioning by plaintiff’s counsel to one hour did not constitute abuse of discretion warranting new trial because counsel failed to continue to object to time limitation or explain why additional time was needed at the conclusion of his examination

On October 13, 2020 in Tallahassee Housing Authority v. Prather, No. 1D19-2457, the Florida First DCA reversed a trial court ruling that had granted the plaintiff in a premises liability case a new trial after a defense verdict.  The trial court concluded that it had erred during jury selection by holding plaintiff’s counsel to a one-hour time limit on voir dire questioning of prospective jurors.  The trial court came to this conclusion after reviewing Carver v. Niedermayer, 920 So. 2d 123 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), a case in which the Fourth DCA found a trial court’s restriction of voir dire questioning to 30 minutes to be an “arbitrary” abuse of judicial discretion.  However, the First DCA distinguished Carver because unlike the appellant in Carver, the plaintiff in this case had failed to continue to object to the time limit after making his initial objection when it was imposed and instead had agreed to wrap up his questioning when his time was about to expire without indication to the court of what, if any, questions remained.  The First DCA also cited two Third DCA cases which found no error when limitations were imposed on the length of voir dire. See Allen v. Se-Go Indus., Inc., 510 So. 2d 1097 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987) (affirming order denying motion for new trial and finding appellant failed to carry her burden of demonstrating the trial court abused its discretion resulting in harmful error when it limited her voir dire time to twenty minutes); Leamon v. Punales, 582 So. 2d 8 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991) (finding trial court did not abuse its discretion in limiting voir dire where appellant’s proffer of proposed questions failed to demonstrate he was precluded from pursuing any important theory). Although not discussed in the First DCA’s decision, the existence of conflicting DCA opinions on this general subject suggests that the trial court was not in fact “bound” by the precedent of Carver, since in Florida the stare decisis effect of a DCA decision only applies to a trial court in another district if there are no other DCA decisions to the contrary. See Weiman v. McHaffie, 470 So. 2d 682 (Fla. 1985).