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Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co., Ltd. v. Ziegler

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

June 7, 2017

KNAUF PLASTERBOARD (TIANJIN) CO., LTD., and KNAUF GIPS KG and LEON COSGROVE, LLC, Petitioners,
v.
WILLIAM BART ZIEGLER, et al., Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Petition for writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Beatrice Butchko, Judge; L.T. Case No. 502010CA002246XXXXMB.

          James M. Talley and Kyle A. Diamantas of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, Orlando, for petitioner Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co., Ltd., and Knauf GIPS KG.

          Scott B. Cosgrove and Garrett Nemeroff of León Cosgrove, LLC, Coral Gables for petitioner León Cosgrove, LLC.

          Beverly A. Pohl of Broad and Cassel LLP, Fort Lauderdale, and Michael K. Wilson of Broad and Cassel LLP, Orlando, for respondents.

          Per Curiam.

         The defendants, a Chinese drywall manufacturer and distributer ("drywall defendants"), petition this court for a writ of certiorari seeking review of two non-final orders permitting discovery of the amount of punitive damages they actually paid in the post-judgment settlement of an unrelated case. They argue the trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law by construing section 768.73(2), Fla. Stat. (2016) to allow for such discovery.[1] We agree and grant the petition.

         The drywall defendants were sued in a prior unrelated case ("Robin action"). On November 22, 2013, the jury awarded $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages against Defendant KPT and $5, 000, 000 in punitive damages against Defendant Knauf Gips. The parties subsequently entered into a post-judgment settlement and recorded a satisfaction of judgment.

         Here, the drywall defendants seek to avoid a punitive damages claim in this case based upon the punitive damage award in the Robin action. They filed a Proffer of Proof of Prior Punitive Damages Award and Renewed Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Punitive Damages Claim. They argued section 768.73(2) prohibits a subsequent punitive damage award if punitive damages were previously awarded in any action alleging harm from the same course of conduct for which punitive damages were already awarded.

Specifically, section 768.73(2) provides:
(a)Except as provided in paragraph (b), punitive damages may not be awarded against a defendant in a civil action if that defendant establishes, before trial, that punitive damages have previously been awarded against that defendant in any state or federal court in any action alleging harm from the same act or single course of conduct for which the claimant seeks compensatory damages. For purposes of a civil action, the term "the same act or single course of conduct" includes acts resulting in the same manufacturing defects, acts resulting in the same defects in design, or failure to warn of the same hazards, with respect to similar units of a product.
(b)In subsequent civil actions involving the same act or single course of conduct for which punitive damages have already been awarded, if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the amount of prior punitive damages awarded was insufficient to punish that defendant's behavior, the court may permit a jury to consider an award of subsequent punitive damages. In permitting a jury to consider awarding subsequent punitive damages, the court shall make specific findings of fact in the record to support its conclusion. In addition, the court may consider whether the defendant's act or course of conduct has ceased. Any subsequent punitive damage awards must be reduced by the amount of any earlier punitive damage awards rendered in state or federal court.

(Emphases added).

         The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there was clear and convincing evidence that the drywall defendants were sufficiently punished. The trial court explained that the statute simply prevents multiple punishments for the same conduct as long as the defendant was sufficiently punished. The judge reasoned: "Now, if there was a nominal amount that . . . didn't really constitute any significant punishment then that ...


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