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Antonio Jimenez v. Pedro Ortega, Case No. 5D14-1818 (5th DCA)

In Jimenez, the Fifth District ruled that the trial court should have dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for pain and suffering and loss of earnings as a sanction for committing fraud upon the court. The plaintiff had filed a negligence suit after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident. The defendant did not contest liability or the medical expenses asserted; however, the defendant did dispute the claims for loss of earnings and pain and suffering. At trial, the plaintiff admitted to having lied in several respects over the course of three depositions taken between 2006 and 2013, in part because surveillance video demonstrated the plaintiff had testified falsely as to the nature and extent of his injuries. Based upon those admissions, the defense sought to have the case dismissed as a sanction for fraud upon the court. The trial court took the motion under advisement and permitted the trial to proceed. The jury later returned a verdict that included over $300,000 in loss of earnings and pain and suffering. Following the verdict, the trial court entered an order denying the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant.

The Fifth District began by noting that the “trial court has the inherent authority, within the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to dismiss an action when the plaintiff has perpetrated a fraud on the court.” That power should be used “cautiously and sparingly, and only upon the most blatant showing of fraud, pretense, collusion, or other similar wrong doing.” The court found that “where a party lies about matters pertinent to his own claim, or a portion of it, and perpetrates a fraud that permeates the entire proceeding, dismissal of the whole case is proper.” Where a party commits misconduct that amounts to less than sentiently having set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability to impartially adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense will be insufficient, dismissal for fraud upon the court will be inappropriate. Misconduct not sufficing to warrant dismissal may include inconsistency, nondisclosure, poor recollection, dissemblance and even lying. “To warrant dismissal, there must be clear and convincing evidence of a scheme calculated to subvert the judicial process.”

Here, the plaintiff’s lies as to lost wages and pain and suffering were “pervasive and significant,” and “by their very nature, calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability to impartially adjudicate the matter by intentionally and falsely painting a picture of someone who was in constant and excruciating pain and incapable of working.” The Fifth District noted that to discourage such conduct, the court must punish it. However, it recognized that defining the appropriate level of punishment may be difficult. The Fifth District found that the trial court abused its discretion when it ignored the misconduct of the plaintiff. The court noted that the trial should have carefully balanced the policy favoring adjudication on the merits with the competing policies to maintain the integrity of the judicial system. Employing this test, the Fifth District found that dismissal of the entire action would have been unwarranted given that liability was admitted and medical expenses were undisputed. However, because the plaintiff engaged in repeated, serious misconduct, the Fifth District concluded that “the integrity of the judicial system required dismissal of [the plaintiff’s] claims for lost wages and pain and suffering.”

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