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Error for Florida Court to Find Action Moot Before Ruling on Motion to Supplement

Error for Florida Court to Find Action Moot Before Ruling on Motion to Supplement

by David Reutter

lForida’s First District Court of Appeals held on January 2, 2015 that it was error for a trial court to dismiss as moot a prisoner’s mandamus petition without ruling on a pending motion to supplement the petition.

Prisoner William T. Morrison, Jr. filed four sets of grievances challenging the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) failure to properly process his mail. Upon filing a mandamus petition on March 18, 2010 in Leon County Circuit Court, Morrison sought relief for the FDOC’s failure to treat correspondence from the Florida Bar and a reporter with the Kansas City Star as privileged mail.

Morrison was granted leave to amend his petition on October 27, 2011, to include grievances related to the processing of his mail from PLN. He then moved on August 22, 2012 to include a claim concerning mail from Lance Weber, general counsel of the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization. The court never ruled on the latter motion to supplement.

Instead, it dismissed his petition as moot based upon the FDOC’s clarification of Rule 33-210.103 F.A.C, which indicated mail from the Florida Bar and the news media would be treated as privileged mail and opened in a prisoner’s presence. On appeal, the First District was not persuaded that the FDOC’s promise to change its response to Morrison’s grievances was “sufficient to render a cause of action moot.” That, however, was not the primary basis for its decision.

Rather, the Court of Appeals pointed to Rule 1.190(a), Fla.R.Civ.P., which provides the trial court with discretion to allow amendment of a pleading. Here, the trial court erroneously failed to enter a ruling on Morrison’s second motion to supplement his petition before dismissing the case.

“[T]he record shows that the FDOC opened and read letters from a private attorney to [Morrison] outside his presence and in all respects treated that correspondence as routine mail,” the First District wrote. A questionnaire sent to Morrison by attorney Weber concerned PLN’s pending federal lawsuit challenging the FDOC’s total ban on PLN due to its advertising content. The appellate court noted that the questionnaire was not listed as a prohibited item under the FDOC’s mail rules, which require that correspondence from attorneys be opened in a prisoner’s presence.

As such, the case was reversed and remanded for the trial court to rule on Morrison’s motion to supplement his petition, and for further proceedings. See: Morrison v. Florida Department of Corrections, 153 So.3d 981 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2015).


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Related legal case

Morrison v. Florida Department of Corrections