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PEOPLE'S TRUST INSURANCE COMPANY vs YESENIA VALENTIN
Case Number: 3D19-58
Judge: Monica Gordo
Court: Third District Court of Appeal
State of Florida
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Valentin’s property was insured by People’s Trust under a policy that
included a Preferred Contractor Endorsement.3
In July of 2017, Valentin’s home
sustained water damage from an apparent roof leak. According to the allegations of
People’s Trust’s complaint, People’s Trust repeatedly requested several documents
1 The parties concede that based on this Court’s holding in People’s Trust Insurance
Company v. Acosta, 259 So. 3d 179 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018), the request for injunctive
relief was properly dismissed because People’s Trust pleaded other counts
demonstrating the availability of other forms of relief, e.g. monetary damages. Thus,
that portion of the trial court’s order is affirmed without further discussion.
2 “Pleaded has always been the predominant past-tense and past-participial form. . . .
[It is not] considered quite standard in [American English], although it is a common
variant in legal usage . . . . Still, pleaded, the vastly predominant form in both
[American English] and [British English], is always the best choice . . . .” Bryan A.
Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage 699–700 (4th ed. 2016).
3 This endorsement permits People’s Trust to elect to repair damages using its
preferred contractor, rather than paying the insured for the loss.
from Valentin prior to the filing of the underlying suit, including a sworn proof of
loss. People’s Trust asserts that nearly a year after the subject loss, Valentin
submitted a sworn proof of loss, but People’s Trust argued that it had not been
properly filled out. People’s Trust also alleges that it invoked the policy’s appraisal
provisions, but Valentin did not cooperate in that process. Valentin did, however,
execute a work authorization, which authorized People’s Trust’s contractor to
perform the covered repairs on the subject property.
At the end of June of 2018, upon Valentin’s failure to comply with its requests
to fill out a completed sworn proof of loss or appoint an appraiser, People’s Trust
filed suit. The complaint consisted of three counts, pleaded in the alternative: (I)
mandatory injunction/specific performance, (II) declaratory judgment, and (III)
breach of contract/rescission. Despite the fact that Valentin had authorized People’s
Trust to perform repairs on the property, People’s Trust believed that her failure to
comply with her post-loss obligations may have relieved it of its obligation to do so.
As such, People’s Trust sought a declaration of its rights to determine whether it was
entitled to rescind the contract or required to perform the covered repairs. Valentin
filed a motion to dismiss the action, arguing the trial court should dismiss the case
due to the lack of a justiciable case or controversy.
The trial court granted Valentin’s motion in its entirety and planned to permit
People’s Trust to amend its complaint. People’s Trust advised the court that there
was nothing more it could do to fix the already extensively pleaded complaint and
requested that dismissal be with prejudice. This appeal followed.
A trial court’s ruling on a motion to dismiss is a question of law subject to de
novo review. Siegle v. Progressive Consumers, Inc., 819 So. 2d 732, 734 (Fla.
2002). The court is “required to accept the factual allegations of the complaint as
true and to consider those allegations and any inferences to be drawn therefrom in
the light most favorable to [the plaintiff].” Aguilera v. Inservices, Inc., 905 So. 2d
84, 87 (Fla. 2005) (citing Siegle, 819 So. 2d at 734–35).
People’s Trust’s claim for breach of contract was properly dismissed. “The
elements of a breach of contract action are: (1) a valid contract; (2) a material breach;
and (3) damages.” Grove Isle Ass’n, Inc. v. Grove Isle Assocs., LLLP, 137 So. 3d
1081, 1094–95 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014) (citing Schiffman v. Schiffman, 47 So. 3d 925,
927 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010)). The complaint did not contain even a barebones
allegation of damages and simply stated that damages in this case are “unavailable
as a matter of law.” The complaint, therefore, failed to state a cause of action for
breach of contract. Although typically People’s Trust would have been afforded an
opportunity to amend its complaint, it declined to do so and instead specifically
requested that the trial court dismiss with prejudice. Thus, this issue was not
properly preserved for appeal.
Regarding the claim for specific performance, People’s Trust’s complaint
alleges that there was a contract between the parties, the terms of which were clear
and definite. “In order for a court of equity to decree specific performance of a
contract, the terms of the agreement must be clear, definite, certain and complete.”
Abundant Living Citi Church, Inc. v. Abundant Living Ministries, Inc., 213 So. 3d
1055, 1058 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (quoting Bay Club, Inc. v. Brickell Bay Club, Inc.,
293 So. 2d 137, 138 (Fla. 3d DCA 1974)). “[T]he equitable remedy of specific
performance is granted only where the parties have actually entered into an
agreement that is definite and certain in all of its essential elements.” Id. (quoting
Bay Club, Inc., 293 So. 2d at 138). Given that the factual allegations in People’s
Trust’s complaint supported the elements of a claim for specific performance, it was
entitled to maintain this action. See People’s Trust Ins. Co. v. Nowroozpour, 277
So. 3d 135, 137 (Fla. 4th DCA 2019) (finding that People’s Trust had the right to
seek enforcement of the policy’s appraisal and repair provisions through a count for
The count for declaratory relief was also sufficiently pleaded to withstand
dismissal. The declaratory judgment act provides that a party in doubt about its
rights under a contract or other instrument may seek a judicial declaration. § 86.021,
Fla. Stat. (2019); see also Kelner v. Woody, 399 So. 2d 35, 37 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981)
(“The purpose of the declaratory judgment act is to afford relief from insecurity and
uncertainty with respect to rights, status, and other equitable or legal relations, and
is to be liberally construed . . . .” (citing § 86.101, Fla. Stat.)). “[Q]uestions of fact
and disagreements concerning coverage under insurance policies are proper subjects
for a declaratory judgment if necessary to a construction of legal rights.” Travelers
Ins. Co. v. Emery, 579 So. 2d 798, 801 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991). Additionally, “[a]n
insurer may file a declaratory action in order to determine whether an insurance
policy is voidable.” Transp. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Soil Tech Distribs., Inc., 966 So. 2d 8,
10 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (citing United Servs. Auto. Ass’n v. Clarke, 757 So. 2d 554,
555 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000)). People’s Trust pleaded that it seeks a declaration of its
coverage obligations and whether it is entitled to void the subject policy. Based on
the allegations in the complaint, the dispute between the parties is a “proper subject
for a declaratory judgment” at this stage of the proceedings. Travelers Ins. Co., 579
So. 2d at 801
Outcome: Taking the allegations in the complaint as true and considering them in the
light most favorable to People’s Trust, it presented legally sufficient claims for
specific performance and declaratory judgment against Valentin. Thus, we reverse
the dismissal of those counts and remand for further proceedings. We affirm the
trial court’s order in all other respects.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings