Torrey v. Leesburg Regional Medical Center

769 So. 2d 1040 (2000)

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Torrey v. Leesburg Regional Medical Center

Florida Supreme Court
769 So. 2d 1040 (2000)

Facts

Becky Torrey (plaintiff), in her capacity as the personal representative of the estate of Helen Rose Woodard, filed a wrongful-death action against Leesburg Regional Medical Center (LRMC) (defendant). Torrey’s complaint was prepared, signed, and timely filed by a Michigan attorney (Torrey’s attorney) who was not licensed to practice law in Florida. LRMC moved to disqualify Torrey’s attorney. Torrey’s attorney responded, presented evidence that other attorneys in his office were licensed in Florida, and requested permission to appear on Torrey’s behalf along with Florida-licensed co-counsel. The trial court gave Torrey’s attorney the requested permission. LRMC then moved to dismiss Torrey’s complaint, arguing that the complaint was a nullity because it was signed by an attorney who was not licensed to practice law in Florida. The trial court asked Torrey’s attorney to submit evidence that the defects in the complaint were the result of excusable neglect. In response, Torrey’s attorney submitted an affidavit stating that the mistake occurred because he had been in a rush to submit the complaint due to a misunderstanding about when the relevant statute of limitations expired. The trial court dismissed Torrey’s action without prejudice, holding that, because Torrey’s attorney failed to establish excusable neglect, Torrey’s defective complaint must be classified as a nullity. Because the dismissal occurred after the expiration of the relevant statute of limitations, Torrey was unable to refile her wrongful-death action. Torrey appealed, arguing that she should have been allowed to amend her complaint to avoid dismissal. The appellate court affirmed, holding that a complaint signed by an attorney who was not licensed in Florida was a nullity and could not be amended. Because of the way the appellate court framed the issue on appeal, it did not address excusable neglect. Torrey appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Shaw, J.)

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