As you many readers of this blog already know, the Florida Supreme Court declared that personal property owned jointly by a husband and wife is presumed to be tenants by entireties property which is immune from the creditors of either spouse individually. The Supreme Court made this holding in the case of Beal Bank, SSB v. Almand in 2001. The Supreme Court concluded that there is a strong policy favoring the presumption of tenants by entireties title when a married couple jointly own personal property. The Court said that the well-recognized presumption of tenants by entireties ownership of real property owned by married couples should extend to personal property as well.
The ruling seems clear, but it apparently is not clear to everyone. In a recent case in Orange County Circuit Court, of Sunny gifts, Inc., v. Vong Corporation, Judge Thomas Mihok entered an order stating specifically that the Beal Bank decision and its presumption of tenants by entireties does not extend to the attachment of a motor vehicle owned jointly by husband and wife. The judge permitted a creditor to levy on a jointly owned automobile.
The ruling in the Vong case not only contradicts the Florida Supreme Court, but it also ignores a unanimous three-judge decision of a Florida Appellate Court which held that the Beal Bank decision applied to jointly owned stock certificates. The debtor’s attorney, David Cohen of Orlando, Florida, stated that the judge based his ruling on a prior opinion of a Jacksonville bankruptcy judge. Apparently, the judge readily accepted the opinion of a single bankruptcy judge over the ruling and opinion of six Florida Supreme Court justices and three appellate court judges.
Mr. Cohen stated that he intends to appeal the Vong decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. If there is to be consistency in Florida case law one expects Mr. Cohen’s appeal to be successful and that Judge Mahok’s decision will be reversed.