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Florida First DCA rules that plaintiff was not entitled to sue for mental anguish and emotional distress allegedly caused by his former attorney’s failure to file post-conviction motions on his behalf

On May 6, 2019, in Reid v. Daley, No. 1D18-2438, the Florida First DCA ruled that a plaintiff could not avail himself of a narrow loophole to the general rule preventing tort plaintiffs from claiming damages for mental anguish and emotion distress unless they arise from physical injuries sustained in an impact.  See R.J. v. Humana of Fla., Inc., 652 So. 2d 360, 362 (Fla. 1995). The plaintiff sued his former attorney, claiming he retained the attorney to file post-conviction legal motions on his behalf, but the attorney never performed the agreed-upon legal work.  The claim of damages for mental anguish and emotional distress is the only reason the case ostensibly qualified for circuit court jurisdiction because the amount in controversy was otherwise limited to the $4,500 paid, which was below the $15,000 circuit court jurisdictional threshold.  The First DCA noted that the “impact” rule does not apply to a vary narrow class of cases in which the foreseeable harms are predominantly emotional in nature.  One such case was Rowell v. Holt, 850 So. 2d 474, 480 (Fla. 2003) in which the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the impact rule did not bar an emotional distress damage claim against an attorney who failed to turn over a document that would have freed his incarcerated client.  The First DCA distinguished Rowell, noting that its holding was not intended to implicate the entire spectrum of legal defense work but was instead limited to those rare cases where, quoting Rowell, it “is beyond dispute that [the prisoner] was innocent of the crime charged, should not have been arrested, and was wrongfully confined on a continuing basis in pretrial detention.”  The First DCA’s opinion does not discuss the specific grounds of the post-trial criminal motions sought by the plaintiff.

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