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Swearingen v. Villa

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

August 23, 2019

ROBERT SWEARINGEN, Appellant,
v.
RIO VILLA, UNIT V, HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Brevard County, Jeffrey Mahl, Judge.

          Nicholas A. Vidoni, of Vidoni Law PLLC, Cocoa, for Appellant.

          Kelli E. Lueckert, and Gregory A. Anderson, of AndersonGlenn LLP., Jacksonville, for Appellee.

          GROSSHANS, J.

         Appellant, Robert Swearingen, appeals the circuit court's final judgment entered after it dismissed his second amended complaint, which alleged that Rio Villa, Unit V, Homeowners Association, Inc., (Association) violated the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         Appellant sold a property located in the Rio Villa community. As part of the closing process, the buyer's agent requested an estoppel certificate from the Association. The Association returned the completed estoppel certificate to the buyer's agent and attached an invoice for past-due fines based on a violation of the Declaration.[1]

         Shortly thereafter, Appellant filed in circuit court a complaint against the Association. Alleging that the Association violated the FCCPA, see §§ 559.55-785, Fla. Stat. (2016), Appellant sought both injunctive relief and monetary damages up to the statutory maximum of $1000.[2] The Association filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Appellant failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The circuit court granted the motion to dismiss but gave Appellant an opportunity to amend the complaint.

         Appellant timely filed an amended complaint with virtually identical claims. In ruling on the Association's motion to dismiss the amended complaint, the circuit court noted, "[Homeowner's] Amended Complaint fails to address the pleading deficiencies that resulted in a dismissal of the original complaint." Concluding that Appellant had "not stated a cause of action or a valid claim for injunctive relief," the circuit court dismissed the injunction claim with prejudice. However, the court offered Appellant "one final opportunity to amend his complaint (not simply re-packaging and refiling the same pleading)." Additionally, the circuit court warned that, absent a claim for injunctive relief, county court may be the appropriate venue.

         Appellant timely filed a second amended complaint in circuit court before a successor judge, again asserting two claims which were virtually identical to those contained in the prior complaints. The complaint requested injunctive relief, although a footnote stated: "The [circuit court] dismissed the claim for injunctive relief. Homeowner re-alleges this allegation solely to preserve any possible appellate review of his right to seek injunctive relief." Appellant's monetary damages claim in the amount of $1000 continued to allege that the Association violated the FCCPA. Concurrent with the filing of his second amended complaint, Appellant filed a motion to transfer the case to county court, arguing that jurisdiction was with the small claims court.

         The Association filed another motion to dismiss, asserting that the monetary damages claim did not state a cause of action and noting the previous dismissal of the injunction claim. The Association also filed an objection to the motion to transfer, arguing that the circuit court had jurisdiction because Appellant reasserted his claim for injunctive relief.

         The circuit court entered an order denying Appellant's motion to transfer to county court and dismissing the second amended complaint with prejudice. Subsequently, the circuit court entered final judgment in favor of the Association. Appellant's motion for rehearing was denied, and this appeal followed.

         Appellant first argues that the circuit court erred in dismissing his claim for injunctive relief. We affirm, without discussion, the circuit court's dismissal of this claim. Appellant also argues that the circuit court erred in 1) dismissing his claim for monetary damages because it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over his second amended complaint[3] and 2) improperly denying his motion to transfer to county court. We agree with Appellant that the jurisdictional deficiency requires reversal of the circuit court's order dismissing the second amended complaint with prejudice.

         "On appeal of a judgment granting a motion to dismiss, the standard of review is de novo." Knox v. Adventist Health Sys./Sunbelt, Inc., 817 So.2d 961, 962 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002) (citing City of Gainesville v. State, Dep't of Transp., 778 So.2d 519, 522 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001)). Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is also a question of law reviewed de novo. See Bilbrey v. Myers, 91 So.3d ...


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