ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. ― In consolidated appeals of nonfinal orders from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit in St. Lucie County, the QPWB appellate team of Thomas A. Valdez, Vilma Martinez, and Kimberly J. Lopater attained a significant victory in a favorable per curiam decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
The Laurel Point decision involves three consolidated appeals, including the Laurel Point case handled by the QPWB appeals team. On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed trial court’s several orders denying motions to compel arbitration in lower tribunal cases numbered 2018-CA-001065, 2018-CA-001838 and 2019-CA-000360.
At the trial court level, the plaintiffs in each case challenged the right to compel arbitration on grounds that an arbitration agreement, which specifically referenced and incorporated the American Health Lawyers Association (“AHLA”) rules, did not satisfy the AHLA “separate document requirement” because the agreement had been made part of a compilation of documents with consecutively numbered pages.
Plaintiffs’ counsel relied on the Fourth DCA’s earlier decision in Fallang Fam. Ltd. P’ship v. Privcap Companies, LLC, No. 4D20-548, 2021 WL 1115388 (Fla. Dist. 4th DCA 2021) to advance the argument that it was for the trial court, not the arbitrator to decide whether the “separate document” and other requirements of the AHLA Rules had been met. Chiefly on these grounds, the trial court denied the respective defendants’ motions to compel arbitration.
Laurel Point yields an important decision in arbitration jurisprudence because the Fourth District not only reversed several orders denying motions to compel arbitration but it also distinguished its earlier decision in Fallang, which did not contain specific delegation language.
The Fourth District Court agreed with Laurel Point and the other appellants’ position on appeal, writing, “the agreement’s language specifically referencing and incorporating the AHLA rules was a ‘clear and unmistakable’ delegation of the authority to have the arbitrator decide the issue.” In addition, the District Court summarily dispensed plaintiffs’ argument challenging the introduction of the agreement under the business records exception to the hearsay rule as having “no merit.”
The decision becomes final after disposition of a timely filed motion for rehearing.
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Thomas A. Valdez is a Partner in the Tampa office and Chairs the firm’s Appellate Practice Group which provides clients with both traditional appellate services and proactive trial support services before, during and after trial. Although his practice is mainly focused on appellate practice he also devotes his time to defending long term care, medical malpractice, general liability, commercial and construction claims. He earned his law degree with high honors from Florida State University College of Law in 1997.
Vilma Martinez is a Partner in the Tampa office. Her practice is emphasized in the areas of medical and dental malpractice defense, nursing home, and assisted living negligence defense, and the representation of healthcare providers in administrative proceedings. She is a Florida licensed Health Care Risk Manager and provides legal counsel to healthcare facilities and others since 2010 in all of her areas of practice and pertaining to electronic health records, e-discovery, healthcare technology, HIPAA compliance and data breach response. Her practice is also focused in premises liability, automotive liability, catastrophic injury and wrongful death matters. Ms. Martinez received her law degree from Stetson University College of Law in 2009. She is fluent in Spanish, and proficient in Mandarin Chinese and French. She served in the United States Army for two years and received numerous military honors before her honorable discharge in December 1997.
Kimberly J. Lopater is an Associate in the Tampa office. She practices in the Firm’s Litigation and Appellate Practice Groups in the areas of long-term care defense and general liability including premises liability, products liability, automobile liability and the defense of other negligence and tort claims. Ms. Lopater received her law degree from Stetson University College of Law in 2019.
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