Boyd & Jenerette Appellate Case Law Update – Florida Adopts the Federal Summary Judgment Standard

January 6, 2021 by on News

Florida has now joined the overwhelming majority of states in adopting the federal standard for summary judgment motions.  The Florida Supreme Court announced in its recent opinion, In re: Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510, No. SC20-1490 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2020), that Rule 1.510 will be amended as of May 1, 2021, to provide that motions for summary judgment will be evaluated in conformity with the federal summary judgment standard, as articulated in a trio of United States Supreme Court cases known as the Celotex trilogy (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986)).

In its opinion adopting the amendments, the Florida Supreme Court explained that while the Florida and federal summary judgment rules have long shared nearly indistinguishable language, the two have nonetheless diverged in their interpretation.  In re Amends. to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, SC20-1490 at *2.  Under Florida jurisprudence, the existence of even a trivial, non-credible dispute of fact precluded summary judgment.  Id. at *4 (quoting Bruce J. Berman & Peter D. Webster, Berman’s Florida Civil Procedure § 1.510:5 (2020 ed.)).  In contrast, the federal standard considers whether a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, and evidence that is not sufficiently probative to meet this standard does not preclude summary judgment. In re Amends. to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, SC20-1490 at *2. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).  Notably, the federal standard has been recognized as fundamentally similar to the standard for a directed verdict motion.  In re Amends. to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, SC20-1490 at *2-3.

The decision to amend the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure stemmed from another recent Florida Supreme Court case, Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, No SC19-1336 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2019), in which Shareholder Kansas R. Gooden submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association (FDLA) in support of adopting the Celotex Trilogy.  In concluding that Florida should indeed adopt the Celotex Trilogy as the summary judgment standard in Florida, the Florida Supreme Court held that the federal standard better comports with the purpose of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure—‘“to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.”’  In re Amends. to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, SC20-1490 at *5-6 (quoting Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.010).  As the court expressed, evaluating summary judgments under the federal standard will “improve the fairness and efficiency of Florida’s civil justice system, [] relieve parties from the expense and burdens of meritless litigation, and [] save the work of juries for case where there are real factual disputes that need resolution.”  In re Amends. to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, SC20-1490 at 6-7.

Upon taking effect May 1, 2021, amended rule 1.510 will apply prospectively.  Wilsonart, Inc., SC19-1336 at *4.  The rule as amended expressly provides for summary judgment motions to be construed in accordance with the Celotex Trilogy and changes the language “genuine issue” to “genuine dispute,” consistent with the federal summary judgment rule.  In re Amends. to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, SC20-1490 at *11.  The supreme court will accept comments on the amendment until March 2, 2021.  Id. at *7.

If you have any questions about this case or would like to refer an appellate matter, please contact our appellate attorneys.

Joanna S. Brunell
Direct: 904.326.0043

Kansas R. Gooden
Shareholder / Practice Group Leader
Direct: 305.537.1238

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