The Weight Is Over – Florida Finally Adopts The Federal Summary Judgment Standard

The Florida Supreme Court did not allow 2020 to pass without addressing an issue “which has long been the subject of thoughtful commentary” in the legal community for decades:  whether Florida should adopt the Federal summary judgment standard?

That issue is not merely academic as countless parties have experienced having a summary judgment motion denied under the heavy burden imposed by the current Florida standard, whereas a different result may have been obtained under the federal standard.  

On December 31, 2020, the Court answered the question in the affirmative and amended Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(c) on its own initiative pursuant to its rule-making authority.  The new amendment becomes effective May 1, 2021.  Because Rule 1.510(c) is procedural in nature, the amendment should apply to all cases pending on May 1, 2021.  See e.g. Montello v. Montell, 937 So. 2d 1154 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006) (holding that rule amendment applied to all cases pending on or after its effective date).

Federal v. Current Florida Standard 

Under federal and Florida law, summary judgment is designed “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action” by providing a mechanism for the early disposition of cases that do not present genuine triable issues.  Despite similarities between Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 1.510(c), interpretation and application of both standards could not be more stark. 

For instance, while the federal standard set forth in the Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986) line of cases hold that claims may proceed to trial only if there is enough evidence for jurors to reasonably find for the nonmovant, the current Florida standard  precludes summary judgment if there is the “slightest doubt” as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.  Craig v. Gate Maritime Properties, 631 So. 2d 375 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994); Jones v. Dirs. Guild of AM., Inc., 584 So. 2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991); Greene v. Twistee Treat USA, LLC, 302 So. 3d 481 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020; Gidwani v. Roberts, 248 So. 3d 203 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018); E. Qualcom Corp. v. Global Commerce Center Ass’n, Inc., 59 So. 3d 347 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011); Besco USA Intern. Corp. v. Home Sav. Of America FSB, 675 So. 2d 687 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996).  

Moreover, Florida courts have imposed upon the moving party the onerous burden of having to prove a negative: the non-existence of a genuine issue of material fact.  Holl v. Talcott, 191 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 1966) As borne out through practice, application of the current Florida standard has produced inconsistent results and led to the unnecessary prolonging of specious claims.

Amended Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(c)

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(c) has been amended as follows:

The summary judgment standard provided for in this rule shall be construed and applied in accordance with the federal summary judgment standard articulated in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); and Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).

The Florida Supreme Court explained that “[t]hrough this amendment, we align Florida’s summary judgment standard with that of the federal courts and of the supermajority of states that have already adopted the federal summary judgment standard. See Zachary D. Clopton, Procedural Retrenchment and the States, 106 Calif. L. Rev. 411, 432 (2018) (identifying thirty-seven states as having adopted the federal standard in whole or in part; since then a thirty-eighth state (Utah) has embraced the federal standard).

Conclusion 

The adoption of the federal summary judgment standard is a monumental shift in the law and a game-changer to Florida civil practice because: (i) the moving party will no longer have to disprove the opposing party’s claims; (ii) Florida courts will not have to accept assertions of fact or theories that are contradicted by the record evidence; and (iii) a non-moving party will no longer be able to defeat summary judgment by merely showing that the record raises the “slightest doubt” that material issues of fact could be presented.

In addition to making it easier to obtain summary judgment in Florida, it is anticipated that Florida litigants may be dissuaded from bringing dubious claims – which is not so under the current Florida standard.  

The trial and appellate attorneys at Lydecker Diaz have advocated for and anticipated Florida’s ultimate adoption of the federal summary judgment standard.  Therefore, we have the knowledge, insight, and experience to ensure proper record development in pending cases and effective strategies for taking advantage of the new summary judgment standard.

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