The Prestige Gallery, Inc., M. Craig Hornsby, and Colby Hornsby, Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
Edward F. Napleton, Napleton's Tallahassee Imports, LLC, doing business as, Napleton Infiniti, and Frank "Pete" Dee Grinnell, Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Terry P.
L. Lyons of Lyons & Farrar, P.A., Tallahassee, for
Michael F. Coppins and Zackery A. Scharlepp of Coppins
Monroe, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellees/Cross-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.
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
jury then requested a definition for the term
"inconsequential" and the court instructed the
jury: "'inconsequential' means, and I've
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
share the trial court's 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, Dep't 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., XTech, 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
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 directions to reduce the award to nominal
damages only, and we Affirm all other issues.
and M. K Thomas, JJ, and Duncan, J Scott, ...