Florida Litigation Update: Florida Supreme Court Adopts the Federal Summary Judgment Standard

Feb 03, 2021   

Florida Litigation Update: Florida Supreme Court Adopts the Federal Summary Judgment Standard

Legend has it that new, Florida state-court judges are told—off the record—something along these lines: when in doubt, deny summary judgment; chances are there’s something in the record that’s a genuine issue of material fact, and it’s easy to get reversed for granting summary judgment, but not vice versa.  The legend presumably dates to Holl v. Talcott, 191 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 1966), and its progeny, which require a party moving for summary judgment to disprove the non-moving party’s theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact, and bars summary judgment if there is the slightest doubt about an issue of fact—or even a “scintilla.” Carnes v. Fender, 936 So. 2d 11, 14 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006). This exacting standard no doubt has forced countless cases to trial, and fostered a pining amongst litigants for the federal courts’ more movant-friendly summary judgment standard.

Florida’s more exacting summary judgment standard may now be a thing of the past.  On December 31, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court took the initiative to adopt the federal summary judgment standard (thus joining 38 other states that have done so in whole or in part).  Effective May 1, 2021, the standard will appear in amended Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(c), which will state as follows:

The judgment sought must be rendered immediately if the pleadings and summary judgment evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law…. 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).

In re Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.5102020 WL 7778179 *4 (Fla. 2020). The proposed rule may change in response to comments from the public, which the Florida Supreme Court has invited.

Here’s what this means for litigants seeking summary judgment in Florida’s state courts:

  • Instead of having to negate a nonmoving party’s claim or disprove its theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact, a moving party now need only establish “an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.”
  • It will no longer suffice to avoid summary judgment with a “metaphysical doubt” or competent evidence, “however credible or incredible, substantial or trivial,” that creates an issue of fact. Id., 2020 WL 7778179 *1; quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
  • What constitutes a genuine issue of material fact will now depend on whether “the evidence is such that a reasonably jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id., 2020 WL 7778179 *2; quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
  • Motions for directed verdict and for summary judgment will now require the same inquiry: “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id., 2020 WL 7778179 *2; quoting Bruce J. Berman & Peter D. Webster, Berman’s Florida Civil Procedure § 1.510:5 (2020 ed.).

Finally, we note that the Florida Supreme Court delayed the implementation of the new standard to allow for an opportunity for public comment. More specifically, the Court seeks the public’s input on: i) whether effective implementation of the standard requires any additional, ancillary amendments to Rule 1.510; ii) whether specific text of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 should be added to Rule 1.510; and iii) whether Rule 1.510 should be replaced in its entirety with the text of Federal Rule 56, the rule which articulates the procedures for summary judgment under federal law. Comments must be filed with the Court on or before March 2, 2021.

The change is a welcome step towards ensuring that the summary judgment rule helps litigants resolve civil lawsuits in a “just, speedy, and inexpensive” manner—to the chagrin of non-moving parties whose opposition may consist of little more than casting slight doubts on the facts in order to force a time-consuming and expensive trial.  What to expect with the new standard?  More summary judgment victories and more appeals.

Regardless of which side you’re on, FIDJ’s seasoned trial and appellate litigators can help you.  Contact us at 305-350-5690 or info@fidjlaw.com to find out how.