Florida Adopts More Defense-Friendly Summary Judgment Standard
On May 1, 2020, Florida’s new summary judgment standard took effect, following the completion of revisions (available here) by the Florida Supreme Court. Here are the takeaways:
· The new rule now largely follows federal Rule 56, and in a note references the federal caselaw “trilogy” of Celotex, Liberty Lobby, and Matsushita;
· Florida’s old “slightest doubt” standard is out;
· Presentation of material facts and the timing of motion practice now follow federal procedure;
· The court must state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion (the federal rule only says should); and
· Movants who were denied summary judgment in pending cases under the old rule will have a “reasonable opportunity” to renew their motions under the new rule.
Justice Jorge Labarga adhered to his dissent from December that said the new rule “infringes upon the role of the jury in deciding disputes in civil cases.”
The Supreme Court received more than 50 comments on the proposed revisions, many of which were submitted by defense, insurance, business, and industry groups supporting the new rule. The Florida Medical Association, for example, forecast a reduction in the “expense and burdens of meritless litigation.” But one Tampa lawyer who represents plaintiffs in bad-faith actions against insurers, separately voiced the concern that “now the trial judge may usurp the role of factfinder and decide what a ‘reasonable jury’ would do.”
While the new rule arguably cuts back on Florida’s reputation as a plaintiff-friendly state (see, e.g., the American Tort Reform Foundation’s annual “Judicial Hellholes®” reports), it remains to be seen how state court judges will implement the new rule in practice. The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently declined to apply it to a judgment predating May 1, 2021, noting that the amendment “applies prospectively.” Tank Tech, Inc. v. Valley Tank Testing, L.L.C., No. 2D19-422, 2021 WL 2212092, at *1 n.1 (Fla. 2d DCA June 2, 2021).
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