Florida Supreme Court Ends 2020 With Adoption of the Federal Summary Judgment Standard – JD Supra

Out with the old, in with the new: the Florida Supreme Court closed out 2020 with a key decision that eliminates Floridas previous summary judgment standard in favor of the federal standard articulated in the Celotex trilogy. The opinion released on New Years Eve provides that the new summary judgment standard will take effect on May 1, 2021. See In Re: Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510, No. SC20-1490 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2020) (per curiam).

The rule amendment will change Floridas jurisprudence in three primary ways, with the overarching purpose of securing the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action:

The Florida Supreme Court emphasized that the purpose of adopting the federal summary judgment standard is to improve the fairness and efficiency of Floridas civil justice system, to relieve the parties from the expense and burdens of meritless litigation, and to save the work of juries for cases where there are real factual disputes that need resolution. Id. at 67. By adopting the federal standard, Florida aligns itself with 38 other states that have adopted the federal standard in whole or in part.

This important decision follows a series of certified questions arising from a fatal rear-end car crash case, Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, No. SC19-1336 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2020). In Lopez, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants based on video evidence that appeared to refute plaintiffs version of events. The Fifth District reversed, finding that the trial court had improperly weighed competing evidence on material facts. Lopez v. Wilsonart, LLC, 275 So. 3d 831, 834 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019).

The Fifth District, apparently conflicted by the compelling nature of the video evidence, certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court asking whether Florida should recognize an exception to its summary judgment standard to allow for the entry of summary judgment where the movants unaltered video evidence completely negates or refutes any conflicting evidence presented by the non-moving party in opposition to the summary judgment motion. Lopez, No. SC19-1336, at 1, 4. The Florida Supreme Court answered the Fifth Districts question in the negative because it did not see a principled basis for engrafting onto Floridas existing summary judgment standard a special interpretive rule for cases involving video evidence. Id. at 5.

The Florida Supreme Court, however, viewed the Fifth Districts certified question as raising a larger issue in Floridas summary judgment standard the unreasonable definition of what constitutes a genuine issue in need of resolution by a jury. See id. at 5. The Florida Supreme Court invited the parties to brief whether Florida should adopt the summary judgment standard articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); and Matsushita Electric Industries Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986), and whether Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 must be amended to reflect any change in the summary judgment standard. Id. at 2.

The Florida Supreme Court answered its own questions yes and simultaneously released an amendment to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 to bring Floridas summary judgment standard in line with federal precedent. Id. at 4. The courts adoption of the federal summary judgment standard is intended to further the rules objectives by more actively isolating and disposing of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Id. Put bluntly, the court found the federal standard is more rational, more fair, and more consistent with the structure and purpose of our rules of civil procedure. Id. at 6.

Procedurally, the new standard for summary judgment will not take effect until May 1, 2021. As for the defendants in Lopez, although the Florida Supreme Court approve[d] the result in the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversing the trial courts entry of summary judgment, it expressly rendered its decision without prejudice to the Petitioners ability to seek summary judgment under Floridas new summary judgment standard, once our rule amendment takes effect. Lopez, No. SC19-1336, at 6.

Floridas new summary judgment standard is significant because it announces a familiar, achievable standard to dispose of claims that are unsupported by evidence. For any pending dispositive motion practice that may be decided during the gap period before the rule amendment takes effect, movants should strongly consider requesting that any decision be made without prejudice to seek summary judgment under the new summary judgment standard once the rule amendment takes effect.

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Florida Supreme Court Ends 2020 With Adoption of the Federal Summary Judgment Standard - JD Supra

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