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Bejarano v. City of Hollywood and Hollywood Circle, LLC

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

September 25, 2019

EDWIN BEJARANO, VITO CHIECO, RONNY HUDSON, AKEELIA JEFFREY, PIERRE MARQUEZ, ROBERT MATSON, ALEKSANDR MELNIKOV, ELIZABETH MIDDLETON, EDSON MOODIE, RAMON PEREZ and DEREK DUNSTON, Appellants,
v.
CITY OF HOLLYWOOD and HOLLYWOOD CIRCLE, LLC d/b/a TOWNHOUSE APARTMENTS, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; John J. Murphy, III, Judge; L.T. Case No. 14-008722 CACE (19).

          John G. Crabtree, Charles M. Auslander, Brian C. Tackenberg and Emily Cabrera of Crabtree & Auslander, LLC, Key Biscayne, for appellants.

          Elliot B. Kula and Ashley P. Singrossi of Kula & Associates, P.A., Miami for appellee, Hollywood Circle, LLC d/b/a Townhouse Apartments.

          Gross, J.

         Eleven plaintiffs in a circuit court action appeal the summary final judgment dismissing their circuit court action. We reverse in part, holding that the proper remedy was not dismissal but the transfer of the action to the county court.

         The plaintiffs are all former tenants of an apartment complex owned by Hollywood Circle, LLC d/b/a Townhouse Apartments (the "Developer"). They were unhappy with the Developer's plan to demolish the apartment complex to build a new luxury apartment building. Each plaintiff made a separate claim under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act ("FDUTPA") asserting that the Developer's agents misrepresented the timeline for demolition of the building.[1]

         Each plaintiff's individual claim was below the jurisdictional threshold of the circuit court. The plaintiffs sought to aggregate their claims to meet the jurisdictional limit.

         Although there are some similarities between the plaintiffs' claims, [2] the plaintiffs resided in different units, their leases were for different terms, and representations to the plaintiffs by the Developer's agents were made at different times, under different circumstances, and by different people. The plaintiffs sought different sorts of damages, for example, some pursued reimbursement for furniture left behind; some wanted to be paid for items needed in their new home; and some sought moving expenses.

         The Developer moved for summary judgment on the ground that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiffs' individual claims were below the circuit court's monetary threshold for jurisdiction. The circuit court granted the motion.

         "Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo." Sanchez v. Fernandez, 915 So.2d 192, 192 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

         County courts have original jurisdiction of "all actions at law in which the matter in controversy does not exceed the sum of $15, 000." § 34.01(1)(c), Fla. Stat. (2014). Circuit courts have "original jurisdiction not vested in county courts." Art. V, §5(b), Fla. Const.

         The issue in this case is whether multiple plaintiffs alleging the same cause of action against a single defendant can aggregate their claims to meet the monetary threshold for circuit court jurisdiction.

         The plaintiffs rely upon State ex. Re. City of West Palm Beach v. Chillingworth, 129 So. 816 (Fla. 1930), but they read that case too broadly. The plaintiffs in Chillingworth had identical causes of action. Each owned a bond issued in 1920 by West Palm Beach; each sued to recover for an identical amount, a missed interest payment. The Supreme Court permitted aggregation of the plaintiffs' claims under the "rule that, if the demands from their nature or character are joint or composite, or are in some way related to each ...


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