United States: And Now – From The Same Court That Gave Us Engle….

Last Updated: March 4 2017
Article by James Beck

That's Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006), the most bizarre use of res judicata that we've ever seen – giving preclusive effect to a class action verdict despite also finding that the class was not certifiable. Anyway, continuing in the tradition of unusual, pro-plaintiff results from the Florida Supreme Court (but not necessarily the district courts of appeals), we have two more to discuss.

First, since we blogged about the preemption result in Charles v. Southern Baptist Hospital, Inc., 178 So.3d 102 (Fla. App. 2015), we feel we ought to warn you that the favorable preemption decision was reversed late last month by the Florida Supreme Court. Charles v. Southern Baptist Hospital, Inc., ___ So.3d ___, 2017 WL 411333 (Fla. Jan. 31, 2017). Basically, the court held that the provisions of the federal Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act ("PSQI"), didn't preempt (expressly or impliedly) an unusual Florida constitutional provision (called "Amendment 7") granting patients (read: plaintiff lawyers) access to "adverse medical incidents" – even though these incidents were compiled and provided to PSQI evaluation committees in accordance with the statute. Anything that had been initially created for any other purpose couldn't qualify as protected "patient safety work product" under the PSQI. 2017 WL 411333, at *8. The statute provided:

Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, and subject to subsection (c) of this section, patient safety work product shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed.

42 U.S.C. §299b-22(a)-(b). Tort litigation was not mentioned in subsection (c), but the court in Charles grabbed a "rule of construction" from elsewhere in the statute, and used that to create an exception to confidentiality that Congress has not seen fit to create in subsection (c). Charles has a lot of mumbo-jumbo about not reading statutes in "isolation" and giving "every portion" meaning, 2017 WL 411333, at *4-5, but none of that can hide that the decision ignored the "notwithstanding any other provision" language and used something other than "subsection (c)' to create a huge hole in confidentiality that Congress did not authorize.

That's one.

In In re Amendments To Florida Evidence Code, ___ So.3d ___, 2017 WL 633770 (Fla. Feb. 16, 2017), the same court showed the same lack of respect for the state legislature that Charles had shown to the United States Congress. In 2013, the legislature passed a statute to replace the prior Frye-based analysis of expert testimony with that of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). 2017 WL 633770, at *2-3. In re Amendments refused to amend the Florida Rules of Evidence to comply with this legislative directive. This result followed a narrow 16-14 vote to that effect by a rules committee (no doubt packed, like Pennsylvania's, with plaintiff-side members). Id. at *1.

The reason for refusing to follow the Legislature's directive was as bizarre as Engle – that Daubert may well be unconstitutional:

[T]he Committee and commenters who support the recommendation raised what we consider "grave constitutional concerns." Those concerns include undermining the right to a jury trial and denying access to the courts. While the Court does not address the constitutionality of a statute or proposed rule within the context of a rules case, the fact that there may be "grave concerns about the constitutionality of the amendment" has been a basis previously for the Court not adopting an amendment to the Evidence Code. . . . [W]e decline to adopt the Daubert Amendment to the extent that it is procedural, due to the constitutional concerns raised, which must be left for a proper case or controversy.

In re Amendments, 2017 WL 633770, at *3. The court cited no precedent at all for this jaw-dropping proposition. Daubert – a United States Supreme Court decision – has been around, now, since 1993. The Federal Rules of Evidence (Rule 702) have been amended to conform to Daubert. As the dissent points out, no court anywhere has ever declared Daubert unconstitutional before:

[T]he United States Supreme Court decided Daubert in 1993, and the standard has been routinely applied in federal courts ever since. The clear majority of state jurisdictions also adhere to the Daubert standard. In fact, there are 36 states that have rejected Frye in favor of Daubert to some extent. Has the entire federal court system for the last 23 years as well as 36 states denied parties' rights to a jury trial and access to courts? Do only Florida and a few other states have a constitutionally sound standard for the admissibility of expert testimony? Of course not.

In re Amendments, 2017 WL 633770, at *6 (dissenting opinion). The dissent cited two cases directly rejecting this sort of constitutional challenge to Daubert. Id. (citing Junk v. Terminix International Co., 628 F.3d 439, 450 (8th Cir. 2010), and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Robinson, 923 S.W.2d 549, 558 (Tex. 1995)). That's two more cases than the majority cited. It's also probably the tip of the iceberg. The relevant West keynote for Junk is #24, and for Robinson is #8. According to Westlaw, these two keynotes, between them, have been cited by 97 other cases.

We agree with the dissent in In re Amendments – the proposition that, after a quarter century, Daubert is unconstitutional is absurd.

Not only absurd, but utterly unsupported by precedent.

Fish rot from the head, and there is currently something very rotten in the State of Florida.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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