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Koppel v. Ochoa

Supreme Court of Florida

May 17, 2018

DONNA KOPPEL, Petitioner,
v.
LAURA OCHOA, et al., Respondents.

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

          Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions Second District - Case No. 2D14-1866 (Pinellas County)

          Anthony J. Russo of Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig LLP, Tampa, Florida; and Paul U. Chistolini of Smoak, Chistolini & Barnett, PLLC, Tampa, Florida, for Petitioner

          George A. Vaka and Nancy A. Lauten of Vaka Law Group, Tampa, Florida, for Respondent Laura Ochoa

          QUINCE, JUDGE.

         We have for review the decision of the Second District Court of Appeal in Ochoa v. Koppel, 197 So.3d 77 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016), in which the district court certified conflict with Goldy v. Corbett Cranes Services, Inc., 692 So.2d 225 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997), regarding whether the filing of a motion under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.090 to enlarge the time to accept a proposal for settlement automatically tolls the 30-day deadline for accepting the proposal until the motion is decided. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that a motion to enlarge does not toll the time to accept a proposal for settlement. Accordingly, we approve the decision of the Second District and disapprove the decision of the Fifth District.

         FACTS

         The Second District set forth the following facts:

On December 9, 2011, Ms. Ochoa was injured in a crash with a car driven by Ms. Koppel. In April 2013, she sued Ms. Koppel, alleging negligence and seeking damages to compensate her for her injuries.
On September 3, 2013, Ms. Ochoa served Ms. Koppel with a proposal for settlement pursuant to section 768.79 and rule 1.442. The proposal offered to dismiss the action with prejudice in exchange for a lump-sum payment by Ms. Koppel of $100, 000. Rule 1.442(f)(1) provides that a proposal for settlement is "deemed rejected" if not accepted within thirty days after service of the proposal, and Ms. Ochoa's proposal stated that it would be withdrawn if not accepted within that time. On the same day she served the proposal, Ms. Ochoa filed a notice that the case was ready for trial.
On October 2, 2013-one day before the thirty-day period to accept the settlement proposal expired-Ms. Koppel filed a motion seeking to enlarge the time in which to respond to the proposal. The motion cited Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.090, which governs enlargements of time, and alleged that Ms. Koppel had not had sufficient time to evaluate the proposal because (1) she had recently received through discovery a new MRI report bearing on Ms. Ochoa's alleged injuries and (2) the case remained "in its infancy" and Ms. Ochoa's deposition had not been taken. Ms. Ochoa later filed a notice setting a hearing on the motion for December 2, 2013.
Although we do not have a transcript of the hearing, the parties agree that the court did not render a decision on December 2 and that it instead requested that the parties submit additional authorities on or before December 5. The day after the hearing, on December 3, 2013, Ms. Koppel served a notice purporting to accept the proposal for settlement. Two days later, on December 5, 2013, she provided the court with the authorities it had requested. Later that day, the court entered an order denying Ms. Koppel's request to enlarge the time in which to accept the proposal for settlement.
Ms. Ochoa next filed a motion to strike Ms. Koppel's notice accepting the proposal for settlement on grounds that it was untimely. Ms. Koppel opposed the motion and argued that under the Fifth District's decision in Goldy [v. Corbett Cranes Services, Inc., 692 So.2d 225 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997)], her filing of a motion to enlarge time under rule 1.090 tolled the thirty-day period in which she was authorized to accept the proposal. According to Ms. Koppel, the period remained tolled until the trial court denied her motion for enlargement of time on December 5, 2013. Ms. Koppel coupled her response to the motion to strike with a motion to enforce the settlement that she asserted was created by her acceptance of Ms. Ochoa's proposal for settlement.
After a hearing, the trial court agreed that Ms. Koppel's filing of a motion to enlarge time tolled the time she had to accept the settlement proposal, denied the motion to strike the notice of acceptance, and granted the motion to enforce settlement. The trial court then entered a final judgment dismissing Ms. Ochoa's case with prejudice based upon the proposal and acceptance. Ms. Ochoa timely appealed.

Ochoa, 197 So.3d at 78-79.

         On appeal, the district court reversed the trial court, finding that the texts of rules 1.090 and 1.442 were "unambiguous in that neither contains language that could in any way be construed as providing that the time to accept a proposal for settlement is tolled when a motion to enlarge the time to do so is filed." Id. at 80. In rejecting Koppel's argument that Goldy was controlling, the court stated that the Fifth District's decision ...


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