Fraud on the Court Dismissals: An Evidentiary Hearing and "Severe" Misconduct Required by Second DCA

April 6, 2017

EDELMIRO DUARTE, Appellant, v. SNAP-ON, INCORPORATED, a foreign corporation, and NORMAN MULLINS, Appellees. 2nd District. Case No. 2D15-1952. Opinion filed March 15, 2017. 42 Fla. L. Weekly D608b.

Acknowledging that "[t]here is no question that a trial court has the inherent authority, within the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to dismiss an action when a plaintiff has perpetrated a fraud on the court[']" the Second DCA is requiring more than a prima facie showing of fraud. An evidentiary hearing with a finding of "severe" misconduct is necessary to justify the sanction of dismissal. Mere proof of fraud on the Court is not enough to justify dismissal of a lawsuit.

The Second reasoned that "those cases [upholding dismissal] have several differences from the case before us, but one key difference merits comment. In each, the trial court dismissed the case after an evidentiary hearing enabled it to find as facts that the plaintiff had done something false or misleading, that the plaintiff's nonculpable explanations for his conduct were unconvincing, and that the conduct was of a kind sufficiently severe to warrant dismissal under our cases. SEE RAMEY, 993 So. 2d at 1020; MORGAN, 816 So. 2d at 253. Here, “the trial court failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing and thus lacked a sufficient evidentiary basis for determining that fraud on the court had occurred.” SEE RAMEY, 993 So. 2d at 1020 (distinguishing cases involving this circumstance).

The Second DCA concluded: "[t]he limited documentary record before the trial court was not sufficient to justify a decision that dismissal, rather than impeachment at trial or a traditional discovery sanction, was the appropriate remedy for Mr. Duarte's conduct. As such, the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing the action with prejudice. Its final order is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The trial court relied upon the written submissions, including the motion to dismiss, attachments thereto, and the Plaintiff's written proffers of explanations why the misrepresentations (fraud) were made during discovery, without taking sworn testimony.

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