By: David A. Mervine
Luz Cintron and Agustine Cintron v. Edison Insurance Company
339 So. 3d 459 (Fla 2d DCA May 18, 2022)
This matter came before the Second District Court of Appeals following an Order dismissing with prejudice the Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint alleging an action for declaratory relief. The defendant insurance company has issued a homeowners insurance policy to the Plaintiffs, who made a claim for Hurricane Irma damages. Edison denied the claim after determining the damage to be excluded because it was due to wear, tear, marring, and deterioration.
The insureds sued for declaratory relief and Edison sought dismissal, arguing the Plaintiffs did not plead sufficient facts to state a cause of action. The court granted the motion and dismissed the Complaint without prejudice, with leave to amend. Plaintiffs served their First Amended Complaint, which Edison replied to with a second motion to dismiss. The Court granted the second motion to dismiss, also with leave to amend. The Plaintiffs then filed a Second Amended Complaint, which Edison replied to with a third motion to dismiss. The court dismissed the Second Amended Complaint with prejudice. The Court’s reasoning was based on its assertions that the elements of declaratory relief were not pled, there was no ambiguity needing interpretation, and the Plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law. The Plaintiffs appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The Appellate Court noted that actions for declaratory relief should be liberally construed and that the elements were properly pled where Plaintiffs stated that: their residence had been damaged by Hurricane Irma; they submitted a claim to Edison under the all perils policy; the claim was denied and that exclusions barred recovery; they provided Edison with necessary documentation, contending these materials demonstrated the inapplicability of the cited exclusions; and there is a bona fide dispute between the parties as to the applicability of the exclusions, given the facts.
The Court stated that declaratory relief is available not only in cases of policy ambiguity, but also to resolve questions concerning the application of unambiguous policy provisions where there is a disputed set of facts. Further, the Appellate Court held that the existence of an adequate remedy at law, such as an action for breach of contract, does not preclude judgment for declaratory relief.