Florida Supreme Court Brings Florida Summary Judgment Standard in Line With Federal Standard
The Florida Supreme Court has amended Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.510 to “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.” The new summary judgment standard is “expected to make it easier for judges to grant summary judgment motions.” The new standard is effective May 1st, 2021. The Court’s opinion In re: Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510, Case No. SC20-1490, can be read here.
Summary judgment is a pre-trial judgment that dispositively determines the resolution of a case and is meant “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.” Florida’s Rule 1.510(c) on summary judgment requires a showing “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), states that “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
The Court noted that Florida courts incorrectly view summary judgment as a “disfavored procedural shortcut” and deviate from the federal standard in three main respects: (1) failure to recognize the similarity between summary judgment and directed verdict motions; (2) requiring the movant to “conclusively disprove the nonmovant’s theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact”; and (3) an expansive interpretation of what constitutes a “genuine issue of fact.”
By not requiring a movant to conclusively negate the nonmovant’s case theory success on summary judgment motions should be easier. Under the new standard, the moving party must only show an “absence of evidence” to support the nonmovant’s claim or defense. The nonmoving party must then show that “sufficient” evidence exists to establish elements essential to its case.
This is welcomed news. With the significant backlog of cases as a result of the pandemic, this much needed rule change should help move cases to conclusion quicker and more efficiently.