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Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Loftus

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

August 7, 2019

UNIVERSAL PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY a/s/o DOROTHY ANDERSON, BETTY A. HOWARD, JEAN M. JARD, JANET A. DOWDY and DEBORAH L. SMITH, Appellants,
v.
PATRICK LOFTUS, DONNA LOFTUS, MICHAEL P. DEPINTO and TATIANA DEPINTO, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Indian River County; Paul B. Kanarek, Judge; L.T. Case No. 312016CA00174.

          Paulo R. Lima and Elizabeth K. Russo of the Russo Appellate Firm, P.A., Miami, and Markcity, Rothman, Cantwell & Breitner, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellants.

          Matthew J. Conigliaro of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A., Tampa, and Benjamine Reid of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A., Miami, for Appellees Patrick and Donna Loftus.

          TAYLOR, J.

         Universal Property & Casualty Company ("Universal") appeals a final summary judgment in its subrogation action against the owners of a condominium unit. Universal's complaint sought to hold the owners of the unit vicariously liable under section 718.111(11)(j), Florida Statutes, for their tenants' alleged negligence in causing water damage to a downstairs unit owned by Universal's insureds. Because the trial court correctly concluded that section 718.111(11)(j) does not provide a condominium unit owner with a private right of action against another unit owner for the tortious conduct of the latter's tenants, we affirm.

         By way of background, Universal provided homeowners' insurance for a condominium unit owned by the insureds. A water leak in the upstairs condominium unit caused damage to the insureds' unit. The upstairs unit was owned by the Loftuses (the "landlords"), who rented their unit to the DePintos (the "tenants").

         Universal, as subrogee of the insureds, filed a two-count complaint against the tenants and the landlords, seeking to recover the $24, 628.27 it had paid to remedy the water damage to the insureds' condominium unit, plus the $500 deductible that the insureds had paid toward the loss. Count I asserted a claim against the tenants for negligence. Count II asserted a claim against the landlords on the theory that the landlords were vicariously liable for their tenants' negligence under section 718.111(11)(j), Florida Statutes.

         Following some discovery, the landlords moved for summary judgment. The landlords argued that: (1) section 718.111(11)(j) does not provide Universal with a private cause of action against a condominium unit owner for the alleged negligence of the unit's tenants; and (2) the landlords were not liable for negligence because neither they nor their tenants breached any duty of care in maintaining the property.

         The trial court granted the landlords' motion and entered final summary judgment, ruling that section 718.111(11)(j) did not make the landlords vicariously liable to Universal for the negligence of their tenants. The trial court did not reach the issue of whether the tenants were not negligent as a matter of law.[1]

         On appeal, Universal argues that 718.111(11)(j) permits its subrogation claim against the landlords in this case because the statute makes condominium unit owners responsible for the cost to repair or replace a fellow unit owner's property that has been damaged by the negligence of the former's tenants.

         By contrast, the landlords contend that the trial court correctly interpreted section 718.111(11)(j) as not providing a private right of action by a condominium unit owner against another unit owner for the latter's tenants' negligence.

         An issue of statutory interpretation is reviewed de novo. Bank of N.Y. Mellon v. Glenville, 252 So.3d 1120, 1126 (Fla. 2018).

         "When the statute is clear and unambiguous, courts will not look behind the statute's plain language for legislative intent or resort to rules of statutory construction to ascertain intent." Daniels v. Fla. Dep't of Health, 898 So.2d 61, 64 (Fla. 2005). However, a single part of a statute should not be read in isolation. Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp. v. River Manor Condo. Ass'n, Inc., 125 So.3d 846, 849 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). Instead, "all parts of a statute must be read together in order to achieve a ...


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