LaCalle v. Barquin, — So.2d —-, 2008 WL 3358300 (Fla. 3d DCA Aug 13, 2008)

Sometimes even when you’re right, you still lose (yet another example of the risks inherent to litigation).  In the linked-to case the 3d DCA reversed a probate court order dismissing a properly filed petition to establish and probate a lost will.  The 3d DCA based its reversal on the following:

1.  Ongoing probate of an earlier will does not preclude a later-filed petition to probate a lost will

3d DCA: [T]he trial court might have been swayed [into granting the motion to dismiss] by Movant’s argument that a petition to administer another earlier-dated will already had been granted. [This fact] does not preclude or estop the advancement of [a petition to establish and probate a lost will]. A petition for administration of a will and a petition to establish a lost or destroyed will in probate are different proceedings. See Lowy v. Roberts, 453 So.2d 886 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984).

2.  Yes, even in probate, the rules for motions to dismiss still apply

3d DCA: The trial court might have been misled by affidavits-attached to the motion to dismiss-of the two parties alleged to have witnessed the execution of the destroyed will, stating they “do not recall” having witnessed the will’s execution  .  .  .   [I]t is apodictic that matters dehors the four corners of a complaint or petition may not be considered on a motion to dismiss. See Fla. Prob. R. 5.025(d)(2) (“[T]he proceedings [to probate a lost or destroyed will], as nearly as practicable, shall be conducted similar to suits of a civil nature and the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure shall govern, …”); see also Pizzi v. Cent. Bank & Trust Co., 250 So.2d 895, 897 (Fla.1971) (holding-on a motion to dismiss-that “[t]he court must confine itself strictly to the allegations within the four corners of the complaint” (quoting Kest v. Nathanson, 216 So.2d 233, 235 (Fla. 4th DCA 1968))); N.E. at West Palm Beach, Inc. v. Horowitz, 471 So.2d 570, 570-71 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985) (“The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to ascertain whether a plaintiff has alleged a good cause of action and the court must confine itself strictly to the four corners of the complaint.”).

Lesson learned?

Florida’s probate courts are underfunded and overworked. So it should come as a surprise to no one that smart, well meaning judges will make mistakes from time to time.  So how do we and our clients “deal” with this fact?  If at all possible, negotiate a settlement.  If that doesn’t work, take full advantage of the other ADR tools available to Florida litigants [click here].  If that doesn’t work and you find yourself in court in spite of your best efforts, plan accordingly.

First, factor in the risk of an appeal (or multiple appeals) into your litigation budget. If your client has set aside $10,000 or $100,000 or $1,000,000 to spend on your case, make sure a good % of that budget is set aside to pay for appeals.  Second, manage expectations. No matter how badly your client wants to be assured his case is a slam dunk (and how many times he asks you), don’t fall for that trap. Keep reminding him of the facts of life: in litigation, even when you’re right, you can still spend a lot of money and lose.