The Problem With PCAs

In our last installment we noted that Florida’s intermediate appellate courts, the District Courts of Appeal (“DCAs”) frequently dispose of the cases before them with “PCAs,” lawyer-speak for “per curiam affirmed.” These “for the court” decisions approve of the trial court’s holding, but most often offer no explanation as to why the appellant’s arguments are being rejected.

One factor of note regarding such dispositions is that a PCA with no written opinion has no precedential value. Department of Legal Affairs v. District Ct. of Appeal, 434 So.2d 310 (Fla. 1983).

The lack of precedent, however, is not the problem. Despite the large numbers of per curiam affirmances being issued, I have not seen that the onward march of the common law has stopped. And though PCAs may have slowed that process somewhat, it is equally possible that the larger number of appeals taken, growing with our expanding population, has more than taken up the slack. One thing that PCAs very often do, however, is close off the prospect of any further review in the supreme court. See, e.g., State v. Jackson, 926 So.2d 1262 (Fla. 2006)(state constitutional provision requiring the supreme court to review decisions of district courts of appeal declaring invalid a state statute or a provision of the state constitution does not apply to unelaborated per curiam affirmance opinions of the district court of appeal).

Perhaps the bigger problem with PCAs is that, in a given case, they can give the appearance impropriety, and actually work an injustice. While such results have been thankfully rare in my experience, at the same time I have certainly witnessed such occurrences.

In one such case a messy divorce was badly handled, and languished unresolved in the trial court, literally for years. When the case was finally revived, the trial court committed numerous clear errors, any one of which required reversal.

Yet the case was “PCA’d.” Was it because the case was an embarrassment to the judicial system, a veritable comedy of errors exposing how badly a particular case might be bungled? Or because the appellee was a rich and powerful land baron, who owned one of the largest ranches in the state of Florida? Something else entirely?

The problem with PCAs is, we’ll never know.

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