Florida Statute Section 733.710 Interpretation

Section 733.710, Florida Statutes (1991), provides: (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of the code, 2 years after the death of a person, neither the decedent's estate, the personal representative (if any), nor the beneficiaries shall be liable for any claim or cause of action against the decedent, whether or not letters of administration have been issued, except as provided in this section. (2) This section shall not apply to a creditor who has filed a claim pursuant to s. 733.702 within 2 years after the person's death, and whose claim has not been paid or otherwise disposed of pursuant to s. 733.705. (3) This section shall not affect the lien of any duly recorded mortgage or security interest or the lien of any person in possession of personal property or the right to foreclose and enforce the mortgage or lien. In Baptist Hospital of Miami, Inc., v. Carter, 658 So. 2d 560, 563 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995), the Third District held that section 733.710 is a statute of limitations and that fraud or misrepresentation may estop an estate from relying on the statute as a defense. Conversely, in Comerica, 673 So. 2d at 168, the Fourth District certified conflict with the Third District's decision in Carter, concluding that section 733.710 "states an absolute bar-akin to a statute of repose-that the court lacks power to avoid." 673 So. 2d at 164. Recently, in Lutheran Brotherhood Legal Reserve Fraternal Benefit Society v. Estate of Petz, 744 So. 2d 596, 598 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999), the Second District aligned itself with the reasoning expressed by the Fourth District in Comerica and certified conflict with the Third District's decision in Carter. See also Agency for Health Care Admin. v. Estate of Johnson, 743 So. 2d 83, 88 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999) (Nesbitt, J., dissenting and concurring) (concluding that section 733.710 constitutes a jurisdictional statute of nonclaim or a statute of repose). After reading section 733.710 in pari materia with section 733.702, see Pezzi v. Brown, 697 So. 2d 883, 886 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (stating that "sections 733.702 and 733.710, which relate to the same subject matter, should be read in pari materia"); see generally Forsythe v. Longboat Key Beach Erosion Control Dist., 604 So. 2d 452, 455 (Fla. 1992), we find it clear that section 733.710 is a jurisdictional statute of nonclaim that is not subject to waiver or extension in the probate proceedings. In Comerica Bank & Trust, F.S.B., v. SDI Operating Partners, L.P., 673 So. 2d 163, 166 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996), the trial court extended the two-year time period set forth in section 733.710, Florida Statutes, so that the plaintiff could file a statement of claim against the decedent's estate for alleged environmental pollution. See 673 So. 2d at 164. On appeal, the Fourth District traced the development of section 733.710, noting that the Legislature amended the statute in 1989 as part of a "package of amendments" in "obvious response" to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Pope. See id.; ch. 89-340, Laws of Fla. The Fourth District then compared the terms of section 733.710 with the relevant terms of section 733.702. See Comerica, 673 So. 2d at 165. After conducting this comparison, the Fourth District reasoned as follows: The introductory adverbial phrase in section 733.702(1), "[i]f not barred by s. 733.710," means that the 2-year period of section 733.710 is paramount over the limitations period in section 733.702(1). Reading the two sections together, it appears that section 733.702 fixes the basic time frame for filing of claims in decedent's estates being probated in Florida, but section 733.710 sets an absolute deadline beyond which no claim may be entertained. Knowing the effect of the Pope decision, it seems inescapable that the legislative intent for section 733.710 was to create a self-executing period of repose--without significant action by the state itself, it must be noted--for all claims after the lapse of the 2-year period. In its own terms, it takes precedence over all other provisions in the probate code. At the same time, the text is formulated to extinguish any liability that the estate, the beneficiaries or the [personal representative] might have had for any claim or cause of action against the decedent. Hence, rather than merely fixing a period of time in which to file claims, as section 733.702 does, in reality it creates an immunity from liability arising from the lapse of the period stated. The only exception to section 733.710's immunity from liability is found within its own subsection (2), which exempts from the bar of subsection (1) claims that were actually filed within the 2 year period but as to which the [personal representative] has failed to make payment or file an objection.