YVONNE BLUE and DEBORAH COOPER, as Co-personal Representatives of the Estate of Ramona Leonard, deceased, Appellants,
R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO COMPANY and PHILIP MORRIS USA INC., Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Lee County; John E. Duryea, Jr.,
Lorenzo Williams and Natasha N. Harrison of Gary, Williams,
Parenti, Watson & Gary, P.L., Stuart, for Appellants.
A. Fuhrman and Marie A. Borland of Hill, Ward &
Henderson, P.A.; and Jason T. Burnette of Jones Day, Atlanta,
Georgia, for Appellee R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
Geoffrey J. Michael of Arnold & Porter LLP, Washington,
D.C., for Appellee Philip Morris USA Inc.
Blue and Deborah Cooper, as co-personal representatives of
the estate of Ramona Leonard, appeal a final order dismissing
their Engle progeny complaint against R.J. Reynolds
Tobacco Company and Phillip Morris U.S.A., Inc. (the tobacco
companies). We hold that the trial court erred by dismissing
the complaint based on its conclusion that Blue and Cooper
failed to timely move to substitute proper parties, and we
Leonard, the deceased, initially brought a personal injury
action against R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Liggett Group
LLC, Vector Group Ltd., and several other defendants in 2008.
Ms. Leonard died in 2013 while the suit was still pending.
Thereafter, Blue and Cooper, Ms. Leonard's daughters,
were appointed by a probate court to serve as the co-personal
representatives of the estate.
March 2014, Blue and Cooper, along with Liggett Group LLC
(Liggett) and Vector Group Ltd. (Vector), filed a joint
notice and stipulation with the trial court explaining that
Liggett and Vector were being dropped as party defendants.
The stipulation included the following: "COMES NOW, the
Plaintiffs, Yvonne Blue and Deborah Cooper, as Proposed PR[s]
for the Estate of Ramona Leonard, deceased . . . ." The
tobacco companies remained in the case as party defendants,
and the case proceeded. Initially, Blue and Cooper did not
move to substitute themselves as proper parties, and no
formal suggestion of Ms. Leonard's death was ever filed.
Instead, Blue and Cooper and the tobacco companies continued
to litigate the case for almost two years.
September 2015, Blue and Cooper filed a motion to substitute
themselves as the proper parties. The tobacco companies then
filed their motion to dismiss, arguing in relevant part that
because Ms. Leonard's death had been suggested on the
record, within the joint notice and stipulation of dropping
defendants, Blue and Cooper were required to move to
substitute themselves as proper parties within ninety days of
filing that document. The tobacco companies further argued
that because Blue and Cooper failed to do so, Florida Rule of
Civil Procedure 1.260(a)(1) required that the complaint be
dismissed. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Blue and
Cooper asserted that the ninety-day period did not begin to
run until a specific pleading entitled "Suggestion of
Death" was filed. However, the trial court rejected Blue
and Cooper's assertion. The trial court determined that
for purposes of starting the ninety-day period, the rule did
not require a formal document reciting a party's death
but instead required only that the party's death be
somehow suggested on the record. The trial court entered its
order of dismissal and subsequently denied Blue and
Cooper's motion for rehearing.
conduct a de novo review of the order of dismissal. See
Ruiz v.Brink's Home Sec., Inc., 777 ...