The PRESTIGE GALLERY, INC., M. Craig Hornsby, and Colby Hornsby, Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
Edward F. NAPLETON, Napletons Tallahassee Imports, LLC, doing business as, Napleton Infiniti, and Frank "Pete" Dee Grinnell, Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Terry P.
L. Lyons of Lyons & Farrar, P.A., Tallahassee, for
F. Coppins and Zackery A. Scharlepp of Coppins Monroe, P.A.,
Tallahassee, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
Appellants and appellees challenge the final judgment and
various post-verdict orders rendered by the trial court in
this civil case. We affirm all issues raised on appeal and
cross-appeal without further comment except one: we reverse
the final judgment of $80,000 in nominal damages as legally
excessive and remand with directions for the trial court to
award nominal damages only.
a three-week trial during which appellants failed to present
admissible evidence of compensatory damages, the court
provided the jury a verdict form allowing them to award
appellants nominal damages, punitive damages, or both. During
deliberations the jury presented the court with a question
concerning nominal damages which the court answered:
And I have your question and it is, is there a limit on the
amount for nominal damages? And to answer that question,
technically no, there is no limit. I would just read back to
you the instructions which you have as to nominal damages.
And it says, If you find for a plaintiff on his/her slander
claim, but find that no injury or damage has been proved, you
may award nominal damages. Nominal damages are damages of an
inconsequential amount which are awarded to vindicate a right
where a wrong is established but no damages proved.
jury then requested a definition for the term
"inconsequential" and the court instructed the
jury: " inconsequential means, and Ive come up with
this, which is inconsequential means of little or no
importance or insignificant. "
jury ultimately rendered a verdict of $80,000 in nominal
damages in favor of appellants and chose not to award
punitive damages. After the jury was dismissed, appellees
filed a motion to reduce the award on the basis that an
$80,000 award is a legally impermissible nominal damages
award. The trial court ruled that the award was legally
excessive, improper, and contrary to law, but nonetheless
declined to reduce the award because the court felt it had
misled the jury when it told them there was technically no
cap on nominal damages.
share the trial courts frustration with the current state of
the law and the lack of a definitive cap on "nominal
damages." However, there is no legal basis to allow an
award of $80,000 in nominal damages to stand. See,
e.g., State, Dept of Corr. v. Niosi, 583 So.2d
441 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991). Even under federal law jury awards
of tens of thousands of dollars in nominal damages have only
been affirmed where there was a confusing jury instruction
and the jury had the ability to award compensatory damages.
See Auwood v. Harry Brandt Booking Office
Inc., 850 F.2d 884 (2d Cir. 1988). Nonetheless, federal
case law holds that a court may not award a legally excessive
jury award of nominal damages when the jury was not permitted
to award compensatory damages. See e.g., XTec,
Inc. v. Hembree Consulting Servs., Inc., 183 F.Supp.3d
1245, 1272 (S.D. Fla. 2016) (holding that a jury award of
$250,000 in nominal damages was error as a matter of law
because the jury was precluded from awarding compensatory
damages when rendering the verdict).
is little additional guidance we can offer the trial court
beyond that which the trial court gave the jury, instructing
that nominal damages are inconsequential.[*] Accordingly,
we REVERSE the final judgment and REMAND the case to the
trial court with ...