Under Florida Law, What is a Fraud Upon the Court?

Under Florida law, “fraud on the court” is where “a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense.”  Cox v. Burke, 706 So. 2d 43, 46 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998) (quoting Aoude v. Mobil Oil Corp., 892 F.2d 1115, 1118 (1st Cir. 1989)). 

A fraud upon the court may occur, for example, if a party to a lawsuit intentionally conceals material information or repeatedly lies when providing sworn testimony (e.g., during a deposition). The trial court will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the merits of an alleged fraud upon the court.  If a "fraud on the court" is demonstrated, the trial court has the discretion to fashion remedies that serve to sanction the offending party, including dismissal of the offending party's claims or defenses. 

A dismissal for fraud on the court must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Gautreaux v. Maya, 112 So. 3d 146, 149 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013) (citing Perrine v. Henderson, 85 So. 3d 1210, 1212 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012)).  A Florida appellate court reviews a dismissal for fraud on the court under the abuse of discretion standard, but the review is “somewhat  narrowed” because “it must take into account the heightened standard of clear and convincing evidence.”  Id. (quoting Suarez v. Benihana Nat’l of Fla. Corp., 88 So. 3d 349, 352 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012)). Because dismissal for fraud upon the court is an extreme remedy that sounds the “death knell of a lawsuit,” trial courts should use the power of dismissal cautiously and sparingly and only where a party’s conduct is egregious.  Cox, 706 So. 2d at 46. 

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