DCAs and PCAs: Florida Precedent (and the Lack Thereof)

Per Curiam Affirmed

Florida’s intermediate appellate courts, our five district courts of appeal, are known colloquially as DCAs to the brothers and sisters of the bar. These five fiefdoms (originally four) carve up the state geographically, and through one of which most all cases which are ultimately decided by the supreme court must pass. But for most more ‘run of the mill’ cases, the DCA is a litigant’s one chance to correct any error by the trial court, and win a reversal of fortune.

A common misconception of many in the bar, and even some on the bench, exists as to which DCA decisions constitute binding precedent on which trial courts. It is typical to hear requests for legal research accompanied by “See if you can find something from ‘my’ DCA…,” the implication being that decisions of appellate courts from other areas of the state are not binding on local trial courts.

That, however, is not the law. See, Pardo v. State, 596 So.2d 665, 666 (Fla.1992) (finding that in the absence of inter-district conflict or contrary precedent from the supreme court, the decision of a district court of appeal is binding throughout Florida); see also Roland v. Fla. East Coast Ry., LLC, 873 So.2d 1271, 1275 n. 5 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004) (holding the Florida appellate courts are not bound by federal precedent which is persuasive, not binding, authority) (citations omitted). Once on appeal, however, precedent is a different story- each of the five DCAs is bound by the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court, but not by the opinions of the other DCAs. See, McDonald’s Corp. v. Department of Transp., 535 So.2d 323, 325 (Fla. 2d DCA 1988)[” We begin our analysis of the instant case by noting that this court is not bound by the decision of a sister district court. State v. Hayes, 333 So.2d 51, 54 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976). The opinion of a court at the same level is merely persuasive. Id. Conflicts between the district courts are resolved by the Florida Supreme Court. Id.“]

Purely by coincidence, a concept, whereby appellate courts may intentionally avoid creating precedent, has an acronym which rhymes with “DCA:” the dreaded (to appellants) “PCA.” Which stands for “per curiam affirmed,” a three-word phrase which often takes the place of an actual substantive opinion on the merits. See, Department of Legal Affairs v. District Ct. of Appeal, 434 So.2d 310 (Fla. 1983) [per curiam appellate court decision with no written opinion has no precedential value; receding from State Dept. of Public Welfare v. Melser, 69 So.2d 347 (Fla. 1954), and Foley v. Weaver Drugs, Inc., 177 So.2d 221 (Fla. 1965)]; Maradriaga v. 7-Eleven, 35 So.3d 109, 110 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) [“A per curiam affirmance, without opinion, has no precedential value. See State, Dep’t of Revenue v. Kemper Investors Life Ins. Co., 660 So.2d 1124, 1129 n. 4 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995}.”]; Gould v. State, 974 So.2d 441, 445 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) [“Per curiam appellate decisions without a written opinion have no precedential value. Dep’t of Legal Affairs v. Dist. Court of Appeal, 5th Dist., 434So.2d310, 311 (Fla.1983).”];TRW Automotive U.S. LLC v. Papandopoles, 949 So.2d 297 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (per curiam appellate affirmance without written opinion has no precedential value).

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