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Pino v. Bank of N.Y. - 121 So. 3d 23 (Fla. 2013)

Rule:

Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b) empowers a trial court, upon a proper motion and when the terms are just, to relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a final judgment, decree, order, or proceeding based upon any of the five enumerated grounds, including fraud. The rule requires the occurrence of an event (i.e., a judgment, decree, order, or proceeding) from which the party invoking the rule needs relief after the cause has become final. When a defendant alleged fraud on the court as a basis for seeking to set aside a plaintiff's voluntary dismissal, the trial court had jurisdiction to reinstate the dismissed action only when the fraud, if proven, resulted in the plaintiff securing affirmative relief to the detriment of the defendant and, upon obtaining that relief, voluntarily dismissing the case to prevent the trial court from undoing the improperly obtained relief. 

Facts:

Roman Pino, who had defaulted on his mortgage, sought to have a notice of voluntary dismissal of the mortgage foreclosure action struck and the case reinstated in order for the trial court to dismiss the action with prejudice as a sanction to the mortgage holder for allegedly filing fraudulent documentation regarding ownership of the mortgage note. The Court of Appeal elevated a certified question to the Supreme Court of Florida, asking if a trial court has authority to grant relief from a voluntary dismissal where the motion alleges a fraud on the court in the proceedings but no affirmative relief has been obtained by the court.

Issue:

Does a trial court have authority to set aside a notice of voluntary dismissal at the request of a defendant where the plaintiff has not obtained any affirmative relief before dismissing the case? 

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Florida answered the certified question in the negative. The Court held that when a defendant alleged fraud on the court as a basis for seeking to set aside a plaintiff's voluntary dismissal, the trial court had jurisdiction to reinstate the dismissed action only when the fraud, if proven, resulted in the plaintiff securing affirmative relief to the detriment of the defendant and, upon obtaining that relief, voluntarily dismissing the case to prevent the trial court from undoing the improperly obtained relief. Any affirmative relief the plaintiff obtained against the defendant as a result of the fraudulent conduct would clearly have an adverse impact on the defendant, thereby entitling the defendant to seek relief to set aside the voluntary dismissal pursuant to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b)(3). Where the plaintiff did not obtain affirmative relief before it sought the dismissal, measures other than reinstating the dismissed action existed to protect against a plaintiff's abuse of the judicial process. A trial court did not have the inherent authority to strike the notice of voluntary dismissal in such a circumstance.

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