Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Evers

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

September 15, 2017

R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
CINDY EVERS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jacqueline Loyd, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Emmett L. Battles, Judge.

          Gregory G. Katsas and John M. Gore of Jones Day, Washington, D.C. (withdrew after briefing); John M. Walker of Jones Day, Atlanta, Georgia; Troy A. Fuhrman and Marie A. Borland of Hill, Ward & Henderson, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant.

          Hendrick Uiterwyk of Abrahamson & Uiterwyk, Tampa; Michael J. Trentalange of Trentalange & Kelley, P.A., Tampa; Celene H. Humphries, Maegen P. Luke, and Thomas Seider of Brannock & Humphries, Tampa, for Appellee.

          MORRIS, Judge.

         R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (R.J. Reynolds) appeals a second amended final judgment entered in favor of Cindy Evers, in her capacity as personal representative of the Estate of Jacqueline Loyd. Evers' wrongful death action was predicated on claims that Loyd was an Engle[1] class member and that Loyd's lung cancer was, at least in part, caused by R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco Company (for whom R.J. Reynolds is the successor in interest).

         In bifurcated proceedings, a jury determined that Evers was entitled to both noneconomic compensatory damages and punitive damages (as against R.J. Reynolds only). The trial court subsequently directed a verdict in favor of R.J. Reynolds on certain claims, and as a result, the punitive damages award was vacated and the compensatory damages award was reduced. Evers appealed and R.J. Reynolds cross-appealed. See Evers v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 195 So.3d 1139 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015).

         In the first appeal, we reversed the directed verdict, thereby reinstating the punitive damages award. Id. at 1141. However, we declined to reach certain issues pertaining to the punitive damages award because those issues had not been ruled on by the trial court. Id. at 1141 n.2. On remand, the trial court entered the second amended final judgment, finding that the pre-1999 version of the punitive damages statute applied and that there was clear and convincing evidence supporting a punitive damages award in excess of the statutory cap. The trial court also concluded that the action was based on an intentional tort making the compensatory damages award ineligible for a comparative fault reduction. Finally, upon Evers' motion, the trial court concluded that interest on the judgment accrued from May 15, 2013, the date of the original judgment.

         Although R.J. Reynolds raises numerous arguments on appeal, the issue of whether the compensatory damages award must be reduced by the percentage of Loyd's comparative fault is controlled by our recent opinion in Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Boatright, 217 So.3d 166 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), appeal filed, SC17-894 (Fla. May 12, 2017). Therefore we will not address it further. However, as in Boatright, we certify conflict with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Schoeff, 178 So.3d 487 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), review granted, No. SC15-2233, 2016 WL 3127698 (Fla. May 26, 2016), and the line of cases relying on it[2] to the extent that they hold that the core of these types of actions are grounded in negligence and that the comparative fault statute is applicable to reduce the verdict by the smoker's comparative fault. R.J. Reynolds also asks this court to revisit two arguments raised in the prior appeal regarding improper closing arguments made by Evers' counsel and the trial court's failure to give a jury instruction on a conspiracy claim. We decline to do so. R.J. Reynolds also argues that allowing res judicata to apply to the phase I Engle findings[3] violates R.J. Reynolds' due process rights, but it acknowledges that issue has already been determined by case law, and it wishes to preserve the issue for further review. See Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Douglas, 110 So.3d 419, 436 (Fla. 2013) (holding that the acceptance of the Engle findings as res judicata does not violate an Engle defendant's right to due process).

         Instead, we affirm the decision of the trial court in all respects, and we write only to address the issues of the application of the pre-1999 version of the punitive damages statute and the evidence offered in support thereof and the award of interest dating back to the date of the original final judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         Evers sued R.J. Reynolds in 2007, alleging that her mother had been a member of the class prospectively certified in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So.2d 1246 (Fla. 2006). The Engle class comprised all Florida residents who, as of November 21, 1996, suffered or had died from diseases caused by an addiction to cigarettes. See id. at 1274. Evers' amended complaint alleged claims of negligence, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment. Prior to trial, the trial court ruled that Evers could only seek punitive damages on her claims for concealment and conspiracy.

         At the end of the first phase of the trial, the jury determined that Loyd was an Engle class member and that Evers was entitled to recover on all of her claims. The jury allocated thirty-one percent of the fault to Loyd, sixty percent to R.J. Reynolds, and nine percent to Lorillard, and the jury awarded $2, 950, 000 to Evers for noneconomic compensatory damages. At the end of the second phase of the trial, the jury awarded $12, 360, 024 in punitive damages as they related to Evers' conspiracy and concealment claims. The trial court subsequently directed a verdict in R.J. Reynolds' favor on the concealment and conspiracy claims, thereby vacating the punitive damages award. The trial court also reduced the compensatory damages award to $2, 035, 500 to reflect the jury's allocation of comparative fault.

         After this court reversed the directed verdict on appeal and the case was remanded, Evers moved for entry of judgment in the full amount of the jury's compensatory and punitive damages amounts. R.J. Reynolds opposed the motion, arguing in relevant part that the post-1999 statutory cap on punitive damages applied to this case.[4] Ultimately, the trial court entered the second amended final judgment, awarding Evers the original compensatory and punitive damages award amounts. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.