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Obsessions in Time, Inc. v. Jewelry Exchange Venture, LLLP

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

May 9, 2018

Obsessions in Time, Inc., et al., Appellants,
v.
Jewelry Exchange Venture, LLLP, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Rosa I. Rodriguez, Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 15-12254

          Mansfield, Bronstein & Stone, LLP, and David Stone, Gary N. Mansfield, Ariane Wolinsky (Fort Lauderdale), for appellants.

          Stok Folk Kon, and Robert A. Stok and Natasha Shaikh, for appellee.

          Before SALTER, EMAS and LINDSEY, JJ.

          OPINION

          EMAS, J.

         Appellants, Obsessions in Time, Inc. and Marc Shaffman ("Obsessions"), appeal the trial court's order dismissing their third amended complaint with prejudice. Because we conclude the exculpatory clause in the lease agreement is ambiguous and unenforceable, we reverse the order of dismissal.

         FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         In May 2009, Obsessions leased a booth from Jewelry Exchange Venture, LLLP ("Jewelry Exchange") to sell classic watches and other valuable items. Jewelry Exchange provided a master safe in which Obsessions had the option to store their valuable items. The lease agreement, prepared by Jewelry Exchange, required that all valuables must be in the vault within one hour of closing. In addition, paragraph 37 of the lease states in relevant part as follows:

In making this lease, it is hereby agreed that lessor does not assume the relations and duty of bailee and shall not be liable for any loss or damage to the contents of the vault within the premises caused by burglary, fire, or any cause whatsoever, but that the entire risk of such loss or damage is assumed by the lessee. The lessor shall not be liable for any delay caused by failure of the vault doors to lock, unlock or otherwise operate and the sole liability of the lessor hereunder is limited to the exercise of ordinary care to prevent the opening of said vault or boxes contained therein by any person other than lessee or the authorized agent of the lessee.

         Obsessions alleged that an employee of Jewelry Exchange allowed an unauthorized individual to access and remove Obsessions' items, which were stored in the master safe, resulting in a loss in excess of $2 million. Obsessions filed suit and, following several amendments, the operative Third Amended Complaint asserted claims against Jewelry Exchange for breach of contract (Count VIII) and negligence (Count IX). Jewelry Exchange moved to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint and, following a hearing, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed these claims with prejudice.[1] The trial court later denied Obsessions' motion for rehearing, and this appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         We review de novo an order granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. Morin v. Fla. Power & Light Co., 963 So.2d 258, 260 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007).

         On appeal, Obsessions contends that, contrary to the trial court's determination that the exculpatory clause in the lease agreement is clear and unambiguous, the clause is in fact ambiguous, and thus, unenforceable. We agree. As the Florida Supreme Court has observed:

Public policy disfavors exculpatory contracts because they relieve one party of the obligation to use due care and shift the risk of injury to the party who is probably least equipped to take the necessary precautions to avoid injury and bear the risk of loss.

Sanislo v. Give Kids the World, Inc., 157 So.3d 256, 260 (Fla. 2015) (citations omitted).

         Because exculpatory provisions are viewed with disfavor, "Florida law requires that such clauses be strictly construed against the party claiming to be relieved of liability." Sunny Isles Marina, Inc. v. Adulami, 706 So.2d 920, 922 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998). To be enforceable, the ...


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