Florida Record

Thursday, April 2, 2020

4th District Court of Appeals rules in case over defective home construction

By Angela Underwood | Mar 28, 2018

General court 4

WEST PALM BEACH — A 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled on an appeal that raised 10 issues.  

Calling the appeal before them “voluminous,” Judges Dorian Damoorgian, Martha Warner and Melanie May affirmed a previous ruling in a March 21 appeal, but specifically discussed the court’s decision on the form of judgment and application of specific subcontractor defrayal as a setoff in Leo and Kathryn Vecellio's case against Dean and Laura DeSantis and developer and general contractor Addison Construction.

After settling with the subcontractors for more than $3 million for damages for defective construction on their Palm Beach ocean-front residence, the DeSantises, who were selling the home, and Addison Construction owner Danny Swanson appealed the amount recovered, leaving the 4th District panel of judges to first deliberate the form of judgment in question.

“It is undisputed that each of these judgments contained overlapping damages,” authoring Judge Damoorgian wrote, adding. “What is disputed is whether the potential for double recovery needed to be addressed pre-judgment or post-judgment.”

Damoorgian wrote that while Addison argued the judgments ought to “have indicated they were joint and several on their face,” according to the opinion, “Buyers counter that Addison is arguing about a ‘non-issue’ because the ‘law is clear that a party may not collect the same damages twice [and this] is a collection issue.'”

The panel agreed with the Vecellios.

“The Restatement of Judgments is instructive to this issue,” Damoorgian wrote. “Section 49 of the Second Restatement provides that: A judgment against one person liable for a loss does not terminate a claim that the injured party may have against another person who may be liable therefor.”

After further detailing double recovery and satisfaction of the rule while citing Heller v. Held,  the panel concluded “the basis of the foregoing principles is rooted in fairness: if a party is unable to collect on a judgment, it should not be precluded from seeking other consistent but separate manners of recovery against equally liable persons,” Damoorgian wrote.

Next the panel discussed setoff statutes and double recovery.

"In the instant case, the court underwent a thorough analysis utilizing the foregoing principles when arriving at its setoff determination," Damoorgian wrote. "Specifically, it looked at the scope of each subcontractor settlement and compared it to the damages Mr. Swanson, Addison and Sellers were 'sued for.'”

The judge continued detailing why the court’s finding was sound.

"Based on the allegations of the complaint, the court found that a setoff against the fraud judgments was not warranted because 'there were no allegations, evidence or arguments that Mr. Swanson[, Addison, and Sellers] could be liable [for] fraud based upon any actions of the Settled Defendants,'" Damoorgian wrote. 

He added the "Buyers made a strategic and understandable decision not to do so, and this is the end result, before noting the panel's decision "may seem harsh, but it is the only pragmatic result."

"Although this was an extremely complicated and lengthy case, the record, especially the trial court’s many orders, reflect that the court spent a great deal of time considering and carefully analyzing each of the issues raised on appeal and, in doing so, ensured that the parties had a fair trial based on the evidence. Under the circumstances, we affirm in all respects," Damoorgian wrote.

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Florida 4th District Court of Appeal