DAVIS v. HILTON No. 4D00-233.
780 So.2d 974 (2001)
Thomas Irving DAVIS, Jr., Appellant, v. Lin HILTON, Herbert Hilton, her husband, and Charles Berlitz and Valerie Berlitz, his wife, Appellees.
District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District.
Rehearing Denied April 12, 2001.
Betsy E. Gallagher of Gallagher & Howard, P.A., Tampa, for appellees.
This is an appeal taken by plaintiff, Thomas Davis, from a summary final judgment granted to defendants/appellees, Lin Hilton, Herbert Hilton, Charles Berlitz and Valerie Berlitz. Appellant/plaintiff, Davis, sought money damages from his former wife, Hilton, her parents, Charles and Valerie Berlitz, and her husband, Herb Hilton, in a three count complaint filed in the general civil division of the circuit court. Davis and Lin Hilton are the natural parents of K.D., a minor child. Charles and Valerie Berlitz are the maternal grandparents of K.D. We affirm.
The first count of the complaint alleged that Lin Hilton alienated the parental relationship between Davis, the non-custodial parent, and his daughter, K.D. resulting in the intentional infliction of mental and emotional distress. The count alleged that Lin Hilton consistently prevented the non-custodial parent from seeing, talking to or contacting K.D. The count also alleged that defendant Hilton used her maiden surname "Berlitz" or married name "Hilton" in school and social matters "to foster disrespect, dislike and hatred of the plaintiff by his daughter, K.D." The count further alleged that Lin Hilton "breached her
The second count of the complaint was also directed against Lin Hilton and asserted that she breached paragraph XII of a property settlement agreement. That portion of the agreement provides:
The third count of the complaint alleged a civil conspiracy and was directed against the three remaining defendants: Herbert Hilton, the husband of Lin Hilton, and Charles and Valerie Berlitz, the maternal grandparents of K.D. The third count specifically alleged that these three defendants "have conspired and aided and abetted the actions of the Defendant Lin Hilton in alienating the parental relationship between the Plaintiff THOMAS I. DAVIS and his daughter ... resulting in intentional infliction of mental distress on Plaintiff." The answers denied the material allegations of the complaint and affirmatively asserted that Davis himself eroded the relationship with his daughter. The answers alleged that his lack of interaction with his daughter was the result of court orders barring visitation.
Judge Streitfeld, in his order granting the amended motion for summary judgment of October 8, 1999, which was incorporated by reference in the final summary judgment of December 13, 1999, reasoned:
We agree with Judge Streitfeld's reasoning and adopt it as our own and affirm the granting of the final summary judgment.
STEVENSON, J., concurs.
GROSS, J., concurs specially with opinion.
GROSS, J., concurring specially.
The issue in this case is whether a former husband may maintain a suit for damages against his former wife, her parents, and her new husband arising out of their interference with the quality of the former husband's relationship with his daughter.
As the majority notes, there is no allegation that the maternal grandparents and the stepfather interfered with the father's physical custody of the child. The case therefore falls outside of the cause of action recognized in Stone v. Wall,
As to the former wife, I believe that public policy reasons weigh against the causes of action pled in the complaint. This case does not involve an abduction of the child. Count I involves the claim that the wife fostered "disrespect, dislike and hatred" of the former husband by his daughter. Count II alleges a breach of a provision of the property settlement agreement concerning the post-divorce behavior of the parties.
These types of disputes are best handled in a family division by a judge exercising equitable powers. Two purposes of Chapter 61, Florida Statutes (2000) are:
These statutory purposes are not enhanced by the creation of a new front in the divorce wars—a cause of action for damages arising from the parties' relationship with their children. Because of the speed with which it can address a problem pertaining to a child, the family court is better suited than the civil court to address such issues. In the time that a defendant in a civil suit has to file a motion to dismiss, a family court judge can hold a hearing, take evidence, and fashion a remedy.
A family court has remedial tools available to modify behavior and address a child-related issue before it festers into a problem beyond control. For example, the family judge can modify visitation schedules, order counseling, or drop the hammer of contempt or attorney's fees on the intransigent. If the prospect of contempt cannot deter conduct deleterious to the parties' child, then the abstract possibility of a damages judgment in the distant future will be even less likely to modify behavior.
Judges should not create causes of action that would undercut the extensive treatment of child-related matters in Chapter 61. Involvement of children in protracted litigation in pursuit of a money judgment cannot be in their best interest.
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