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Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Company v. Wright

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

August 3, 2018

Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Company and Goshen Mortgage, LLC, as successor in interest to Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Company, Appellants,
v.
Joseph M. Wright and Megan L. Wright, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Nassau County. Steven Fahlgren, Judge.

          Cameron H.P. White and Jason R. Hawkins of South Milhausen, P.A., Orlando, for Appellants.

          Lynn Drysdale, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc., Jacksonville, for Appellees.

          WINOKUR, JUDGE

         Appellant, Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Company (Taylor), appeals the trial court's entry of Final Judgment, which awarded attorney's fees and costs against Taylor's successor-in-interest, Goshen Mortgage, LLC (Goshen). Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.260(c) requires that the substitution of parties occur upon motion to the trial court, which never occurred here. As a result, the lower court erred by sua sponte substituting Goshen as the Plaintiff.[*]

         I.

         Joseph and Megan Wright entered into a mortgage with Taylor for a property located in Yulee. The Wrights defaulted and Taylor filed a complaint against them. Later in the litigation, Taylor went into bankruptcy and their interest in the Wrights' mortgage was assigned to Goshen. Goshen's counsel filed a Notice of Appearance as Taylor's co-counsel. Goshen, as "successor-in-interest" to Taylor, moved to dismiss the case and to cancel notice of lis pendens, and requested the original mortgage documents back from the court file, which the trial court granted. In turn, the Wrights then moved for a Judgment Awarding Costs and Attorney's Fees.

         One of the primary issues at the hearing on the Wrights' motion was whether Goshen was the proper plaintiff in this action, subject to attorney's fees. Goshen and Taylor both argued that Taylor was the proper plaintiff, because Goshen was never substituted as plaintiff, in spite of the fact that it filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court found that Goshen's dismissal of the foreclosure suit as successor-in-interest made Goshen the "de facto" plaintiff. Accordingly, the trial court on its own motion substituted Goshen as the Plaintiff.

         After the hearing, the trial court entered the Final Judgment Awarding Attorney's Fees and Costs Against Goshen.

         II.

         When a trial court's decision is based, in part, on factual findings, it presents a mixed question of law and fact. Gainesville Health Care Ctr., Inc. v. Weston, 857 So.2d 278, 283 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003). The trial court's factual findings are reviewed under a competent, substantial evidence standard. Id. However, the trial court's application of the law to the facts is reviewed de novo. Id.

         Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.260(c) governs substitution of parties to an action:

In case of any transfer of interest, the action may be continued by or against the original party, unless the court upon motion directs the person to whom the interest is transferred to be substituted in ...

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