final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit,
Broward County; Andrea Gundersen, Judge; L.T. Case No. FMCE
Bresky and Jeremy Dicker of Law Offices of Robin Bresky, Boca
Raton, for appellant.
S. Guekjian and Crystal C. Roland of Roland Guekjian, P.A.,
Miami, for appellee.
mother appeals from the circuit court's final judgment
establishing paternity, timesharing, and child support. The
mother raises multiple grounds, including that the circuit
court denied the mother's due process rights by
precluding her from presenting her case-in-chief at the final
hearing. We agree with this argument, reverse the final
judgment, and remand for completion of the final hearing to
allow the mother to present her case-in-chief.
recognize that the circuit court set a limited amount of time
for the hearing and endeavored to balance both sides'
time allotment. However, "[d]ue process requires that a
party be given the opportunity to be heard and to testify and
call witnesses on the party's behalf . . . and the denial
of this right is fundamental error." Julia v.
Julia, 146 So.3d 516, 520 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (citation
is instructive. In Julia, we summarized our findings
and conclusions as follows:
The record clearly evidences a pattern of depriving the Wife
of her opportunity to be heard and present her case
throughout the trial. Although the trial court made
statements that the parties would be given equal time and
that the Wife would get the opportunity to present her
case-in-chief, no such opportunity was presented. The Wife
was not able to call any witnesses on her behalf or present
argument of counsel at the end of the Husband's case in
violation of the guarantees of due process.
Additionally, this Court has recognized that justice cannot
be "administered arbitrarily with a stopwatch, "
yet that is what happened in the instant case. Throughout the
hearing, the trial court made it clear that it intended to
complete the trial in one day without going much beyond 5:00
p.m. Although this goal is not inherently violative of due
process, summarily shortening proceedings can give rise to a
due process violation when they fail to afford a party a
full, fair, and meaningful opportunity to be heard, such as
in this case where the Wife was severely restricted in time
to examine witnesses, to call any of her own witnesses, or to
make any argument as to the evidence presented.
Id. (internal citation omitted).
is slightly distinguishable from the instant case. Here, when
the parties exceeded the initial one day allotment for the
final hearing, the circuit court appropriately scheduled a
second day to attempt to complete the final hearing. And on
that second day, the circuit court gave both parties an
opportunity to present closing arguments. However, on that
second day, despite the court having stated repeatedly that
the mother would have the opportunity to present her
case-in-chief, the circuit court ultimately stated that due
to its time limitations, the mother would not have the
opportunity to present her case-in-chief, and instead would
be limited to presenting closing argument.
was error. "Even if [a party's] evidence would not
have impressed the court, a party has the right to
present evidence and to argue the case at the conclusion
of all the testimony." Minakan v. Husted, 27
So.3d 695, 699 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (emphasis added).
a harmless error analysis does not apply to the fundamental
error of a due process violation, we can say from our review
of the record that the violation was not harmless. The
circuit court, in announcing its findings, stated "there
was not sufficient testimony" regarding certain
financial issues, and the court "didn't hear any
testimony" from the mother about the child's school
and health issues. In the final judgment, the court echoed
its oral findings by writing "there was no testimony
from the Mother" to contradict the father's
allegation's regarding school and health issues. Based on
the court's precluding ...