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Amending a Complaint or Answer in Your Florida Commercial Litigation

A Bal Harbour-based property company received new life in its breach of contract battle with a Miami interior design company. The 3d District Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court in the case should not have refused the property company’s request to modify its court filing answering the designer’s complaint, because the property company’s proposed amendment offered no risk of prejudicing the designer, abusing the legal process, or being futile.

The litigation occurred after RV-7 Property, Inc. hired Stefani De La O, Inc. to provide interior design services. A dispute arose and the designer sued, accusing the property company of failing to pay for services rendered. RV-7 acknowledged the contract at first but argued that the designer was the one who failed to perform.

The designer eventually asked the court for summary judgment in its favor. The trial court scheduled a hearing on the designer’s request. Two days before that hearing, RV-7 filed a request with the court, asking permission to make changes to its answer. RV-7 wanted to advance a new argument – namely, that the property company’s president, Ruben Vasconcelos, had signed the deal with the designer on behalf of himself, not the company. In other words, the contract was between the designer and Vasconcelos, and RV-7 was not a party to it at all.

The trial court refused to allow the property company to make the amendment and then awarded summary judgment in favor of the designer. This triggered an appeal by RV-7, which it won. The trial court shouldn’t have rejected RV-7’s request to amend its answer. The law says that amendments like the one that RV-7 sought to make “ought to be allowed freely unless there is a clear danger” that the amending party is trying to misuse the amendment process to gain an advantage, that the amendment would unfairly harm the opponent’s ability to pursue its case, or that the amendment would be futile. One of these three criteria must exist and be clearly established in order to turn down a party’s amendment request. The law erects this standard in order to maximize the probability┬áthat as many cases as possible are decided on their merits, not on procedural technicalities.

In RV-7’s case, it made the request before the hearing. The appeals court found no clear danger of harm to the designer and that the amendment was not intended to abuse the process. Finally, even if the proposed amendment had a low chance of ultimate success, merely having low a chance of ultimate success does not make a proposed amendment futile. “Any doubt with respect to futility should be resolved in favor of allowing the amendment, especially when leave to amend is sought at or before the summary judgment hearing,” the court opined.

When you are involved in a commercial litigation case, it is vitally important to get your best arguments before the court, whether through your initial filings or by amending those documents. Experienced legal counsel can help you put forward your best case. The knowledgeable and skilled Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman have many years of experience helping business clients like you pursue or defend your breach of contract and other commercial dispute cases.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.

More blog posts:

New York Broker Gets New Opportunity to Prove that It Was Entitled to Commission in Central Florida Commercial Lease Renewal, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Feb. 19, 2016

What to Do When Your Florida Business is Not Paid for Services Rendered, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Aug. 21, 2015

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