Q.D.S. Development, Inc. v. National Lining Systems, Inc., 2024 WL 357984 (Fla. 3d DCA Jan. 31, 2024)

Competent, Substantial Evidence Is the Name of the Game in Construction Disputes

It is common in construction disputes between sophisticated parties for the parties to agree to engage in a bench trial, as opposed to a trial by jury. There are a number of reasons to choose this option, such as complicated issues, the belief that the subject is rather dry, and the lack of faith that a jury will follow the intricacies of the arguments and defenses. In any event, it is important to note the impact of proceeding with a bench trial, and a good example of those consequences can be found in the recent case of Q.D.S. Development, Inc. v. National Lining Systems, Inc. First, you must note that in a bench trial, the judge’s findings of fact carry the same weight as that of a verdict from a jury. Second, on appeal from a bench trial, the appellate court can only reverse the judgment if the judge’s findings of fact are not supported by competent, substantial evidence. 

In Q.D.S. Development, there was a dispute involving a liner installed in a pond on a golf course, issues with the work, and the general contractor’s failure to pay final invoices for the liner subcontractor. During a bench trial, the judge entered a judgment in favor of the subcontractor, requiring the general contractor to pay the unpaid invoices, and issued a lengthy order, including findings of fact. The general contractor appealed, arguing the trial court misjudged the situation. The appellate court reviewed the record, but only to determine whether the trial court’s findings were supported by competent, substantial evidence. In doing so, the appellate court is required to “interpret the record and all reasonable inferences and deductions capable of being drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to sustain the trial court’s conclusions.” Thereupon, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

This matter should serve as a reminder that even if you believe you have a good case—with good arguments and good support—the other side likely feels the same way. At the end of the day, there is no guarantee a judge or a jury will agree with you. Appeals are limited in their review, and there is never a guarantee that the judgement will “get it right” in regard to your arguments.  

Case Law Alerts, 2nd Quarter, April 2024 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2024 Marshall Dennehey, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.