Consequences In the Appellate Court If the Appellent Disobeys a Trial Court
In Gazil v. Gazil, 343 So. 2d 595 (Fla. 1977), the court explained that an appellate court may dismiss an appeal where the appellant has disobeyed a trial court order.
The reason for this rule is that a party who is acting in defiance of judicial authority cannot reasonably expect to avail himself or herself of the benefits of that authority.
The husband in Gazil had been held in contempt for failing to pay his obligations under a judgment of dissolution of marriage, and the district court dismissed the appeal.
This Court quashed the district court order, ruling that Gazil first must be given an opportunity to purge the contempt order:
The rule in Florida is as follows: Where the appellant has disobeyed an order of the trial court, the appellate court may, in its discretion, either entertain or dismiss an appeal.
However, where a dismissal is ordered it is mandatory that the disobedient appellant must be given a period of grace, prior to the effective date of the dismissal, in which to comply with the disobeyed order.
The order of the District Court of Appeal in the case sub judice conflicts with these decisions in that petitioner was not given an opportunity to purge himself so that he could be heard on the merits of the appeal.
If an appellant husband absconds, the situation would be quite different and there would be no need to allow a period of time within which he could purge himself and be heard on appeal.
If the contempt is for nonpayment of money, he should be given an opportunity to purge himself so that he could be heard on the merits of the case. Gazil, 343 So. 2d at 597.
Gazil's ability to pay his obligations never was in issue; the trial court had made a finding that he was financially able to pay and he did not contest that finding.
Although this Court did not address this matter in the majority opinion in Gazil, Justice Roberts referred to the issue in his specially concurring opinion:
In this case, it is noteworthy that the trial court faced the issue and made a finding of fact that the husband was able financially to pay the sums ordered and, in effect, that his failure to do so was in defiance of the trial court.
For that reason, I concur with the decision in this case.
We are not here concerned with the case where the husband is, after due diligence, unable to make the payments ordered because of his indigency.
In such an event, to deny him his right to appeal would, in my opinion, be a deprivation of a constitutional right under both the Constitution of Florida and the Constitution of the United States. Gazil, 343 So. 2d at 597-98 (Roberts, J., concurring specially).