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LLC v. RaceTrac Petroleum, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

April 4, 2018

GASPAR'S PASSAGE, LLC, an Ohio limited liability company, Appellant,
v.
RACETRAC PETROLEUM, INC., a Georgia corporation, Appellee.

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

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Pasco County; Linda Babb, Judge.

          Nicole Deese Newlon and William P. Cassidy, Jr., of Johnson & Cassidy, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant.

          Mary Ellen R. Himes and David O'Quinn of Fidelity National Law Group, Fort Lauderdale, for Appellee.

          MORRIS, JUDGE.

         Gaspar's Passage, LLC, appeals a final judgment entered in favor of RaceTrac Petroleum, Inc., on its amended counterclaim for an equitable lien. This action is the result of a dispute over the sale of commercial property in Pasco County that had been held in trust.[1] RaceTrac purchased the property, but subsequent to the sale, one of the trust beneficiaries challenged the trustee's authority to enter into and complete the sale. As a result, Gaspar, the successor trustee, sued the title insurance company and RaceTrac. RaceTrac, in turn, filed two counterclaims against Gaspar for an equitable lien and unjust enrichment as well as a cross-claim against the original trustee and a third-party complaint against the original trustee and one of the trust beneficiaries. The counterclaims against Gaspar were based on RaceTrac's assertion that it had paid off various liens, back taxes, and certain mortgages. Although the trial court determined that RaceTrac had wrongfully obtained the property, it also determined that RaceTrac was entitled to an equitable lien for the amount of money it expended in acquiring the property. Thereafter, the trial was continued on the remaining issues to permit RaceTrac to add indispensable parties. In this appeal, Gaspar argues that the trial court erred by refusing to permit it to take a deposition of RaceTrac's expert witness or to add additional witnesses or exhibits after granting the continuance of the trial. We agree and therefore reverse on this issue. We affirm the other issues raised by Gaspar, but we note that our reversal may necessitate reconsideration of those issues on remand.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         During the pendency of the proceedings below, Gaspar filed an amended motion for partial summary judgment seeking to void the quitclaim and general warranty deeds that RaceTrac obtained during the sale of the property. The trial court granted the motion and voided the deeds, finding that the trustee had lacked authority to sell the property.

         A bench trial commenced in March 2015, but upon RaceTrac's request, the trial court continued the trial to allow RaceTrac to amend its cross-complaint to add additional trust beneficiaries as indispensable parties to the action. During a discussion regarding the continuation, the trial court indicated that it expected that additional discovery would be necessary. Specifically, the trial court stated: "So I am going to continue this. If there needs to be some discovery taken about this, sobeit [sic]. But I'm going to continue this and allow that to happen."

         The trial court also determined that RaceTrac was entitled to an equitable lien in the amount of $1, 841, 387.83 subject to an upward adjustment if the trial court later determined that an adjustment was necessary. That sum was comprised of the amount that RaceTrac paid to the trust's lender plus one-half of the amount RaceTrac paid to satisfy a second mortgage on the property. Accordingly, the trial court entered a partial final judgment voiding the deeds and awarding RaceTrac the equitable lien.

         RaceTrac subsequently filed its amended counterclaim, cross-claim, and third-party complaint. The changes relevant to this appeal were the addition of two indispensable parties (the original trustee and a trust beneficiary) to the claims against Gaspar for an equitable lien and unjust enrichment as well as RaceTrac's request for an equitable lien and judgment that, for the first time, included amounts for "carrying costs and expenses and the value of improvements incurred in the Subject Property since July 21, 2011." RaceTrac's original demand for relief did not include a request for carrying costs and expenses or the value of improvements. As a result of RaceTrac's amended pleading, Gaspar amended its answer and affirmative defenses to include defenses of setoff and the exclusion of rental value from the compensation due to RaceTrac for any improvements it made to the property. After the filing of its amended counterclaim, cross-claim, and third-party complaint, RaceTrac engaged in limited discovery.[3]

         A March 3, 2016, hearing was conducted to address a motion for a supersedeas bond, a motion for stay in RaceTrac's separate appeal, a motion to compel, and a motion to extend RaceTrac's lis pendens on the property. But at the hearing, RaceTrac raised the issue of whether Gaspar could engage in further discovery in preparation for the continued trial that was scheduled for November 2016. This issue had not been previously raised and was raised without notice to Gaspar. After other discussions not relevant to this appeal and after requesting a date for the continued trial, RaceTrac's counsel brought up the issue of one of RaceTrac's experts. The following discussion then ensued in relevant part:

[RaceTrac's counsel]: I don't know if you're going to open this up--essentially, we have the same parties--if you're going to open up the whole calendar to more discovery and experts and all that or if you're going to say, "Look. You guys already did this. We're not going to take a second bite at the apple."
The Court: Yeah. We're starting from where we stopped.
[RaceTrac's counsel]: Okay.
The Court: We're not starting over.
[RaceTrac's counsel]: Okay. Okay. Okay. But I didn't know if they were going to have another bite at the apple for an expert, because we have an expert who essentially was going to testify. We have a witness from RaceTrac who's going to testify about all the--the engineer. . . . [A]nd then . . . a real estate expert to testify about what value [the modifications that RaceTrac made] bring to the property. Those are essentially the two witnesses we have left. I don't know if we'll have to add testimony.
The Court: Those are not new witnesses.
[RaceTrac's counsel]: No. Those are the witnesses we had.
The Court: Those are the witnesses you had. I'm not going to allow them--
[RaceTrac's counsel]: Your Honor, you didn't--
The Court: Just because they got a new attorney.
[RaceTrac's counsel]: Oh, no. Those are our witnesses--
The Court: No. I know that.
[RaceTrac's counsel]: --that you stopped the trial.
The Court: Right. But if they hadn't listed people--
[RaceTrac's counsel]: Okay.
The Court: --experts in ...

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