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Auto body shops make their case to 11th Court of Appeals, say Fla. judge was too strict in dismissal

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Business Practices | Insurance | Legal
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Arguing that a Florida court exceeded its authority and applied too high a standard in dismissing their cases against insurers, collision repairers in four states sought help Tuesday in a brief to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The shops in Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky were among the dozens of repairers nationwide who’d sued insurers in 2014-15 alleging steering and antitrust violations. Their five lawsuits and 17 others filed in a combined 19 states had been placed in the Middle District of Florida to avoid federal court repetition.

Campbell v. State Farm (Kentucky), Lee Pappas v. State Farm (Virginia), Quality Auto Painting v. State Farm and Ultimate v. State Farm (New Jersey) and Concord v. State Farm (Missouri) filed a single consolidated appeals brief, urging the Eleventh Circuit to clear up what attorneys at Eaves Law Firm called the murky status of just how specific any federal lawsuit had to be. They also asked for the chance to offer an oral argument before the appeals court.

“The questions and issues raised by Appellants implicate fundamental issues of civil pleading that substantially impact every civil litigant’s protected right of access to the courts,” the shops’ attorneys wrote. “Specifically, the quantity of facts and degree of factual specificity a complaint must include to constitute sufficient pleading under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This is an area of law which has experienced substantial confusion at the district court level and does not appear to have been fully addressed by this Court. As an issue of unsettled impression within this Circuit, Appellants believe oral argument would be helpful to resolution.”

Middle District Judge Gregory Presnell had dismissed all 22 cases at various points throughout last year, ruling that the lawsuits were too general to advance further but giving them the chance to amend the litigation.

Some did. Others chose to appeal Presnell’s decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2015. Others did nothing, letting a deadline to amend the case that month expire; Presnell ultimately closed the cases and rendered the decisions final but appealable.

Shortly after the appeal and blown deadline, Presnell dismissed with prejudice (no redos) Florida’s A&E v. 21st Century, which appeared to be the model for many of the other cases, including the appellants.

At that point, the proceedings for all 22 cases have been in limbo, mostly awaiting the outcome of the appeals filed by Eaves Law, attorney in many of the lawsuits. Notably, Presnell has refused to approve sanctions sought by defendant GEICO pending the appeal.

On Tuesday, the five shops accused Presnell of overly relying on the arguments of the defendant insurers, which include the largest auto underwriters in the country and giving short shrift to the plaintiffs. They also disparaged his application of Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey and Missouri state law.

“The district court erred repeatedly in failing to abide by the required standard of pleading,” the brief states. “It consistently adopted Appellees’ arguments contrary to the factual allegations of the complaint, disregarded facts and otherwise failed to cloak the complaints with the acceptance of truth provided by in law on a motion to dismiss. The district court repeatedly amended, altered and otherwise failed to faithfully apply the law of the states. Had the proper analyses been conducted, the dismissals would not have been granted.”

We’ll explore their arguments further in coming stories. Continue to check Repairer Driven News for updates.

More information:

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals auto body shop appellant brief

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Feb. 9, 2016

Featured image: The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is pictured. (Provided by Eleventh Circuit)

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