In a recent appellate court decision from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, the legal purpose of a motion to dismiss was addressed.

The Andrew v. Shands case arose from the alleged negligence of the Shands radiologist who provided care to the plaintiff’s son. The plaintiff argued that an injury was suffered, that the treatment was provided for at the Shands facility, and that the radiologist was a Shands employee, servant, or apparent agent, or an independent contractor who acted within the course and scope of his employment through a joint venture with Shands and the University of Florida Board of Trustees.

By and through the complaint, the plaintiff attached an authorization form which had a notice provision stating that the patient (plaintiff) acknowledged that he may receive care from radiologists who were not employees or agents of the hospital. Based on this attachment, the defendant (Shands) sought to use the plaintiff’s own complaint against them and moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s case on the grounds that the notice provision was proof that refuted the plaintiff’s claims. As such Shands requested that the trial court dismiss the lawsuit.

After hearing arguments the trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit. Because the lawsuit was dismissed, the plaintiffs took an appeal and argued that the trial court mistakenly entered the motion to dismiss, arguing that the court applied the wrong standard.

The First District Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiff. Specifically, the First DCA found that the purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint, and not to determine issues of fact. The DCA’s review of the allegations found that the complaint did state a cause of action and noted that it was error for the trial court to look at attached documents to speculate as to what the true facts may be.

This decision reiterates that motions to dismiss should only be evaluated upon the four corners of the complaint and that factual findings are not appropriate in a trial court’s decision process.