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Magdalena v. Toyota Motor Corporation

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

November 29, 2017

Isabel Magdalena, et al., Appellants,
v.
Toyota Motor Corporation, et al., Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County No. 12-1321, Eric William Hendon, Judge.

          Fowler Rodriguez LLP, and Luis E. Llamas, for appellants.

          Bowman and Brooke LLP, and Stephanie M. Simm, John C. Seipp, Jr., and Donald A. Blackwell, for appellees Toyota Motor North America, Inc., Toyota Tsusho America, Inc., and Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc.

          Before ROTHENBERG, C.J., and EMAS and SCALES, JJ.

          ROTHENBERG, C.J.

         Isabel Magdalena, individually and as plenary guardian of Eugenio Magdalena, and Eugenio Magdalena, individually (collectively, "the plaintiffs") appeal the trial court's order granting Toyota Motor North America, Inc., Toyota Tsusho America, Inc., and Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc.'s (collectively, "Toyota") motion to tax costs and the final judgment subsequently rendered setting the amount of the costs award. The orders under review are based on the trial court's earlier ruling granting Toyota's motion to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens and its later finding that, pursuant to section 57.041, Florida Statutes (2016), and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.525, Toyota was entitled to its costs as the "prevailing party." Because we conclude that a dismissal on the ground of forum non conveniens is not a judgment or ruling on the merits of the claims against Toyota, but rather a ruling which merely provides that another forum is more convenient and would best serve the ends of justice, we conclude that the trial court erred by awarding Toyota its costs.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         As the issue before this Court involves the interpretation of a statute, which is a pure question of law, the standard of review is de novo. B.Y. v. Dep't of Children & Families, 887 So.2d 1253, 1255 (Fla. 2004); Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Reddick, 954 So.2d 723, 730 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007) ("An appellate court reviews whether a trial court's award of costs is excessive for an abuse of discretion; however, whether a cost requested may be awarded, at all, is a question of law to be reviewed de novo.") (citation omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         The trial court awarded Toyota its costs as the prevailing party under section 57.041. We conclude that this was error for several reasons. First, there is existing authority that calls into question whether the "prevailing party" standard is even applicable when assessing whether a party is entitled to an award of costs under section 57.041. See Wolfe v. Culpepper Constructors, Inc., 104 So.3d 1132, 1137 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (en banc) (receding from its earlier decision in Spring Lake Improvement Dist. v. Tyrrell, 868 So.2d 656 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004), and holding that the "prevailing party" standard is inapplicable to a determination of whether a party is entitled to an award of costs under section 57.041); Bessey v. Difilippo, 951 So.2d 992, 995 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007) (holding that '"prevailing party' is not the statutory standard for costs awards") (footnote omitted); but see Granoff v. Seidle, 915 So.2d 674 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005) (applying the "prevailing party" standard to a determination under section 57.041).

         Second, regardless of whether or not the "prevailing party" standard may be applied under section 57.041, it was error to award Toyota its costs under section 57.041 because no judgment has been entered, and Toyota is not a "prevailing party" merely because the litigation will take place in a different forum.

         A. Se ...


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