GEORGE S. ELKINS, JR., Petitioner,
PHYLLIS ELKINS, Respondent.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Petition for writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court for the
Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, St. Lucie County; Charles A.
Schwab, Judge; L.T. Case No. 562013DR002287.
V. Schwerer and James T. Walker of Hayskar, Walker, Schwerer,
Dundas & McCain, P.A., Fort Pierce, for petitioner.
L. Jennings of Jennings & Valancy, P.A., Stuart, for
former husband in this post-dissolution proceeding seeks
certiorari review of an order requiring him to disclose
extensive personal financial information to the former wife.
We grant the petition and quash the order.
parties divorced in 2014. In their marital settlement
agreement, they agreed to divide several rental properties
they owned. The agreement required each party to "use
their best efforts to remove the other party from [the]
mortgage on any property they are receiving under this
agreement within six months of execution of this
February 2017, the former wife moved to enforce the
agreement, alleging that the former husband had not removed
her from the mortgage on a property he received. The former
wife sought extensive financial discovery from the former
husband, his business, and his girlfriend. The former husband
objected to the discovery and moved for a protective order.
former wife moved to compel discovery. She argued that the
agreement required the former husband to use all resources at
his disposal to eliminate her liability on the property by
satisfying the mortgage. She asserted that the requested
discovery is relevant to show that the former husband had the
means to pay off the mortgage but used his resources for
other purposes, including supporting his girlfriend and her
children in an "affluent lifestyle."
former husband moved for an evidentiary hearing to determine
the meaning of the marital settlement agreement. He argued
that the phrase "best efforts" is inherently
ambiguous and requires extrinsic evidence to discern the
parties' intent. He suggested that the parties did not
intend to require him to devote all of his resources to
paying off the mortgage if doing so would be financially
trial court agreed with the former husband that the phrase
"best efforts" is ambiguous and granted an
evidentiary hearing to determine the parties' intent. At
the same time, however, the court denied the former
husband's motion for a protective order and granted the
former wife's motion to compel discovery. The former
husband now seeks certiorari review.
relief is warranted where the trial court has departed from
the essential requirements of the law, resulting in material
harm that cannot be remedied on appeal. See Williams v.
Oken, 62 So.3d 1129, 1132 (Fla. 2011). "[T]he
disclosure of personal financial information may cause
irreparable harm to a person forced to disclose it, in a case
in which the information is not relevant." Friedman
v. Heart Inst. of Port St. Lucie, 863 So.2d 189, 194
(Fla. 2003) (quoting Straub v. Matte, 805 So.2d 99,
100 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002)).
former husband has shown that the trial court's order in
this case departs from the essential requirements of the law
because the requested financial discovery has not yet been
determined to be relevant to any issue in the litigation.
See Elsner v. E-Commerce Coffee Club, 126 So.3d
1261, 1263 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). Because the court found the
marital settlement agreement to be ambiguous, the order
compelling discovery is premature. The court must determine
the meaning of the agreement before it can decide if the
discovery is relevant to whether the former husband met his
obligations. See Jilco, Inc. v. MRG of S. Fla.,
Inc., 162 So.3d 108 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (quashing an
order compelling production of confidential business
information because the court had not yet determined the
validity of a settlement agreement or found the discovery
relevant to any remaining issues); see also Schlesinger
v. Schlesinger, 186 So.3d 618 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016)
(quashing an order permitting discovery of bank records
because the court had not yet decided whether the opposing
party could recover any payments).
we grant the certiorari petition and quash the order granting
the former ...