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Florida Fourth DCA rules that trial court's denial of defendant's summary judgment motion on fraud claims was not the "functional equivalent" of a determination that there was a reasonable evidentiary basis for punitive damages

On January 2, 2019, in KIS Group et al v. Moquin, No. 4D18-1435, the Florida Fourth DCA quashed a trial court’s order granting a plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. The plaintiff had successfully argued before the trial court that the court’s prior ruling denying the defendant’s summary judgment motion on the fraud claims was the “functional equivalent” of a determination that there was a reasonable evidentiary basis for punitive damages. The plaintiff relied on First Interstate Development Corp. v. Ablanedo, 511 So. 2d 536, 539 (Fla. 1987) for the proposition that “proof of fraud sufficient to support compensatory damages necessarily is sufficient to create a jury question regarding punitive damages.” The Fourth DCA ruled that Ablanedo was inapposite because it involved a directed verdict order, not a summary judgment order. The Fourth DCA alternatively concluded that even if Ablenado otherwise applied, its relevance to this case had been superseded by the subsequent enactment of Fla. Stat. 768.72, which requires the trial court trial court to act as a gatekeeper and precludes a claim for punitive damages where there is no reasonable evidentiary basis for recovery.

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