The Law of the Case Doctrine – Win at the Third DCA against Luxury Automotive Dealership

The law of the case doctrine states generally that questions of law that actually have been decided on appeal must govern the case in the same court and in the trial court through all subsequent states of the proceedings. State Dept. of Revenue v. Bridger, 935 So. 2d 536, 538 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006). We were recently successful affirming a trial court’s decision to deny a motion to compel arbitration.  In this case, a luxury automotive dealership in Kendal had originally filed a motion to compel arbitration under the arbitration provision of a contract that was signed by the consumer. The trial court entered a favorable order and the parties proceeded to arbitration. At arbitration, however, the car dealership argued that the contract was in fact not executed, and therefore that the consumer was not entitled to relief under a contract that was not executed.  In essence, the car dealership argued that there was no contract. The dealership was successful in obtaining an arbitration award in its favor.

On appeal, the consumer was successful in having the Third District Court of Appeal reverse the trial court’s order, which had confirmed the original arbitration award.  The Third District held that that if there is no contract, there can be no arbitration clause of a non-existent contract. Niven v. G.F.B. Enterprises, LLC, 849 So. 2d 1093, 1094 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003), citing, Henderson v. Coral Springs Nissan, Inc., 757 So. 2d 577 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). Thus, the law of the case was established.

Nevertheless, the dealership, after subsequent litigation, again moved for a renewed motion to compel arbitration, citing that an exception to the law of the case doctrine existed. The trial court denied said motion, and the dealership appealed. We were successful in arguing to the Third District, however, that under the facts of this case, there were no grounds sufficient to support the application of any exception and that the law of the case had been established. The Court agreed with our position and affirmed.