PAMELA B. STUART, individually and as Trustee of The J. Raymond Stuart Revocable Trust dated January 2, 1990, as amended, and the Marital Deduction Trust and the Non-Marital Deduction Trust created thereunder, Appellant,
CATHERINE S. RYAN and DEBORAH A. STUART, as Beneficiaries of The J. Raymond Stuart Revocable Trust dated January 2, 1990, as amended, and the Marital Deduction Trust and the Non-Marital Deduction Trust created thereunder, Appellees.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit,
Indian River County; Cynthia L. Cox and Paul B. Kanarek,
Judges; L.T. Case No. 31-2013-CA-001523.
B. Stuart, Vero Beach, pro se.
P. Hathaway of Dean, Mead, Egerton, Bloodworth, Capouano
& Bozarth, P.A., Orlando, for appellees.
Stuart appeals the court's order approving a plan of
distribution for her father's estate. Ms. Stuart argues
the court erred when it determined that, while she qualified
for the exemptions our state constitution provides to
residents over their homestead, her wrongful acts as trustee
of the estate required the imposition of an equitable lien
against her homestead interest. We agree the equitable lien
would have been improper if the properties were, in fact, her
homestead. However, here, neither property was Ms.
Stuart's homestead. Therefore, we affirm.
homestead exemption is robust, and the Florida Constitution
provides that "[t]here shall be exempt from forced sale
under process of any court, and no judgment, decree or
execution shall be a lien thereon . . . the following
property owned by a natural person . . . (1) a
homestead." Art. X, § 4(a)(1), Fla. Const. Pursuant
to our constitution, this homestead protection can only be
breached in limited situations: "(1) government entities
with a tax lien or assessment on the property; (2) banks or
other lenders with a mortgage on the property which
originated from the purchase of the property; and (3)
creditors with liens on the property which originated from
work or repair performed on the property." Art. X,
§ 4(a), Fla. Const.
required to liberally apply the homestead exemption and
strictly construe the exceptions. Butterworth v.
Caggiano, 605 So.2d 56, 58, 61 (Fla. 1992) (citations
omitted). Therefore, the availability of exceptions not found
in the constitution is questionable. However, it is true
that, as we recently recognized, our supreme court created a
fourth exception for alimony creditors. See Spector v.
Spector, 226 So.3d 256, 259 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) (citing
Anderson v. Anderson, 44 So.2d 652 (Fla. 1950)).
And, what appear to be other exceptions can be found in
various cases throughout our state's history. See,
e.g., Caggiano, 605 So.2d at 60-61 n.5. But, as
the court explained in Caggiano, each of those
situations is factually distinct and nearly all involve
application of the homestead exemption in a manner that
complies with the plain language of our constitution.
Id. ("Most of those cases involve equitable
liens that were imposed where proceeds from fraud or
reprehensible conduct were used to invest in, purchase, or
improve the homestead. . . . Other relevant cases cited
involve situations where an equitable lien was necessary to
secure to an owner the benefit of his or her interest in the
property."). The court's skepticism regarding the
availability of additional exceptions is not surprising, as
both the legislature and the courts are powerless to create
exceptions to Florida's homestead exemption not found in
our constitution. Id. at 61.
we would limit the exceptions to the constitutional homestead
exemption to those specifically stated in the Florida
Constitution and, because we are compelled to do so, those
specifically recognized by the Florida Supreme Court.
See, e.g. Palm Beach Sav. & Loan Ass'n, F.S.A. v.
Fishbein, 619 So.2d 267, 270 (Fla. 1993); see also
Anderson, 44 So.2d at 652.
whether or not the court in this case had the authority to
impose the equitable lien against Ms. Stuart's purported
homestead interest in the property presumes it was her
homestead. In this case, the availability of an exception is
unnecessary, as the court incorrectly determined the property
was her homestead. Ms. Stuart testified that she had a
Florida driver's license, was registered to vote in
Florida, and joined a community church in the area. While she
testified that she "intended" to make her permanent
residence in Florida at some point in the future, she also
testified that she spent an average of only fifty-nine days
in the state each year from 1998 through 2013. Her current
permanent residence is in Washington, D.C., and she executed
a reversible mortgage on that property as recently as 2013.
Notably, she was simultaneously seeking to have the court
determine two separate pieces of property in Florida as her
homestead. See Art. VII, § 6(b), Fla. Const.
("Not more than one exemption shall be allowed by any
individual or family unit . . . ."). Nevertheless, her
principal residence being in the District of Columbia, Ms.
Stuart was not entitled to the benefits of Florida's
court erred in its conclusion that due to Ms. Stuart's
wrongful actions an equitable lien could be imposed on her
homestead property. Instead, the equitable lien could be
imposed because Ms. Stuart was not a permanent resident
entitled to claim the benefits of the homestead exemption.
Therefore, the court's order is affirmed.