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Herman v. Bennett

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

July 23, 2019

Katherine Herman, Personal Representative for the Estate of Steve Allen Herman, a/k/a Steve A. Herman, Appellant,
v.
Nancy Herman Bennett, Appellee.

         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 Alachua County. Donna M. Keim, Judge.

          Jonathan S. Dean and Sarah C. Rummel of Dean and Dean, LLP, Ocala, for Appellant.

          Adam Rowe, David P. Grigaltchik, and Boris Galustov of Grigaltchik & Galustov, P.A., Jacksonville, for Appellee.

          Lewis, J.

         Appellant, Katherine Herman, appeals the trial court's order denying her petition for an order striking Appellee's, Nancy Herman Bennett's, claim for being untimely filed. Because the trial court erred in determining that Appellee's claim was timely filed under section 733.702(1), Florida Statutes (2017), we reverse.

         Background

         Appellant was appointed as personal representative of the estate of her deceased father, Steve Allen Herman, and filed a petition to determine the beneficiary of an annuity contract. On January 4, 2018, a notice to creditors was published. On April 5, 2018, Appellee, the decedent's sister, filed an answer to the petition and a statement of claim against the estate. Appellant, in turn, filed a petition for an order striking untimely filed claim, arguing that Appellee's claim was barred under section 733.702, Florida Statutes (2017), which provides that a claim against an estate must be filed:

on or before the later of the date that is 3 months after the time of the first publication of the notice to creditors or, as to any creditor required to be served with a copy of the notice to creditors, 30 days after the date of service on the creditor[.]

         Appellant contended that because the notice to creditors was first duly published on January 4th, and Appellee was served a copy of the notice by mail on January 21st, the time for filing any claims expired on April 4th, rendering her April 5th claim time barred. Appellee countered that her claim was timely filed because the computation of the three-month period set forth in section 733.702(1) is governed by Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.514, pursuant to which the time period began the day after the event triggering it and ended on April 5th.

         The trial court found that it is unclear from the language of section 733.702(1) if the three-month creditor's claim period begins to run on the first day of publication or the day after and, thus, resorted to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.514 for guidance. Upon application of the rule, the court found that "the 3-month claims period began to run on January 5, 2018 and expired on April 5, 2018. Therefore, the last day for any creditor to file a claim against the estate . . . was April 5, 2018." Accordingly, the court denied the petition for an order striking untimely filed claim and declared the cause adversarial. This appeal followed.

         Analysis

         We review a trial court's decision on a petition to strike a claim against an estate as untimely for an abuse of discretion. Strulowitz v. Cadle Co., II, Inc., 839 So.2d 876, 879 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003); see also Morgenthau v. Estate of Andzel, 26 So.3d 628, 630 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009), disapproved on other grounds by Jones v. Golden, 176 So.3d 242 (Fla. 2015). However, the standard of review is de novo to the extent the issue turns on statutory interpretation. Morgenthau, 26 So.3d at 630; see also W. Fla. Reg'l Med. Ctr., Inc. v. See, 79 So.3d 1, 8 (Fla. 2012) (stating that questions of statutory construction are reviewed de novo). The polestar of statutory construction is legislative intent. See, 79 So.3d at 8. To discern legislative intent, the court must first look to the plain and obvious meaning of the statute's text. Id. at 9. If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the court must apply that unequivocal meaning and may not resort to the rules of statutory construction. Id. The court must give full effect to all statutory provisions and avoid readings that would render a part of a statute meaningless; additionally, the court may not construe an unambiguous statute in a way that would extend, modify, or limit its express terms or its reasonable and obvious implications. Bennett v. St. Vincent's Med. Ctr., Inc., 71 So.3d 828, 838 (Fla. 2011).

         Section 733.702 is titled "Limitations on presentation of claims" and provides in ...


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