The case arose when a group of investors filed a claim for arbitration, pursuant to their contract, against Raymond James for alleged violations of securities laws that resulted in poor investment returns. Raymond James moved to dismiss the arbitration, arguing that the claim was filed after the limitations period provided for in s. 95.11, Fla. Stat. had expired. Before the arbitration panel could consider the motion to dismiss, the investors sought a declaratory judgment in circuit court, arguing that the limitations statute did not apply to arbitration. The circuit court ruled in favor of the investors, holding that an arbitration is not a “civil action or proceeding”. On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order.
The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower courts, and explicitly held that the limitations in s. 95.11, Fla. Stat. apply to arbitrations.
The Court started by noting that while s. 95.11 sets out time limits for “actions”, the term “action” is defined in s. 95.011, Fla. Stat. as a “civil action or proceeding”. The Court noted that Black’s Law Dictionary recognizes that a proceeding may include a tribunal, which is defined in turn as an adjudicatory body. As “adjudication” is defined as the legal process of resolving a dispute, and an adjudicator is one who renders binding decisions, the Court concluded that arbitration falls under the scope of a “proceeding” as used in s. 95.011, Fla. Stat. The Court pointed out that there was no indication that term “proceeding” was meant to be limited strictly to judicial proceedings. The Court looked at the reference to “arbitration proceedings” in s. 684.03, Fla. Stat. to bolster the conclusion that “proceeding” in s. 95.011, Fla. Stat. is not limited to judicial proceedings; if the term was meant to be qualified, the Legislature could have done so. Finally, the court pointed out that the public policy purposes of protecting defendants from surprise and stale claims that underlie statutes of limitations would be undermined if the limitations did not apply to arbitrations as well.