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Florida Fourth DCA grants certiorari review and quashes trial court order granting plaintiff's motion to amend business tort complaint to include claim for punitive damages

On March 29, 2017, in Bistline v. Rogers, No. 4D16-4012, the Florida Fourth DCA granted certiorari review and quashed a trial court order granting the plaintiff’s motion to amend an intentional business tort complaint to include claim for punitive damages. Section 768.72(1), Florida Statutes (2016), provides in relevant part: “In any civil action, no claim for punitive damages shall be permitted unless there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.” § 768.72(1), Fla. Stat. (2016) (emphases added). Subsection (2) sets forth the burden of proof at trial and provides: “A defendant may be held liable for punitive damages only if the trier of fact, based on clear and convincing evidence, finds that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.” § 768.72(2), Fla. Stat. (2016) (emphasis added). The Fourth DCA noted that in the context of tortious interference with a contract, it is nevertheless possible for a defendant to have engaged in intentional misconduct without it meriting punitive damages. The Court held that to merit punitive damages, the conduct in an intentional interference case must be egregious and sufficiently reprehensible to rise to the level of truly culpable behavior deserving of punishment. The Court cited Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, LLC v. Weitnauer Duty Free, Inc., 987 So. 2d 706, 708 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) (concluding that defendant’s conduct in a tortious interference case was “not sufficiently egregious” to permit punitive damages); James Crystal Licenses, LLC v. Infinity Radio Inc., 43 So. 3d 68, 78 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (same). The Court concluded that the same level of culpable conduct applies to entitlement to punitive damages for other business torts, like conversion. Applying the foregoing to the instant case, the Fourth DCA determined that the trial court had granted the motion to amend the complaint on the erroneous understanding that merely pleading a facially sufficient claim for an intentional business tort was sufficient to claim punitive damages.