Effective May 1, 2021, the state of Florida adopted the Federal summary judgment standard. Prior to May 1, 2021, 1.510 Rules of Civil Procedure stated that a motion for judgment would be granted if there was no genuine issue of material fact. However, the new summary judgment standard now says a motion such as this will be granted if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.
Essentially, 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 (1976); and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986) [(the ‘Celotex trilogy’)].” In re Amends. to Fla. Rule of Civ. Pro. 1.510, 309 So. 3d at 196.
In the Florida Supreme Court’s April 29, 2021, Order, it stated “In the broadest sense, those cases stand for the proposition that “[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part” of rules aimed at “the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.”
A large reason why the Florida Supreme Court adopted the Federal standard was because the Florida courts have historically adopted an expansive understanding of what constitutes a genuine (i.e., triable) issue of material fact. While the Florida caselaw is not entirely uniform, a leading treatise characterizes the Florida standard this way: “[T]he existence of any competent evidence creating an issue of fact, however credible or incredible, substantial or trivial, stops the inquiry and precludes summary judgment, so long as the ‘slightest doubt’ is raised.” Bruce J. Berman & Peter D. Webster, Berman’s Florida Civil Procedure §1.510:5 (2020 ed.).
By contrast, the Supreme Court has described the federal test as whether “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted). A party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” As can be seen, the Federal Summary Judgement standard is in the best interest of the state because it will promote and secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.
The Following are topics the Florida Supreme Court discussed regarding the new summary judgment standard:
The burden of production refers to the quantum of evidence required in order to either negate an essential element of the nonmovant’s claim or establish that the nonmoving party cannot carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial. See Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099 (9th Cir. 2000). The court observed that the movant’s burden of production is not “onerous” and can be “regularly discharged with ease.” Despite this, the court admonished that the nonmovant should still be afforded “adequate time for discovery.”
The court specifically recognized that amended rule 1.510 permits a moving party to obtain summary judgment without disproving the nonmoving party’s case. Specifically, “If the nonmoving party must prove X to prevail [at trial], the moving party at summary judgment can either produce evidence that X is not so or point out that the nonmoving party lacks the evidence to prove X.” Bedford v. Doe, 880 F.3d 993, 996-97 (8th Cir. 2018). “A movant for summary judgment need not set forth evidence when the nonmovant bears the burden of persuasion at trial.” Wease v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, L.L.C., 915 F.3d 987, 997 (5th Cir. 2019).
Rule 1.510 provides that a trial court shall state on the record its reasons for granting or denying summary judgment. The court classified this as a “critical requirement,” and explained that, in order to comply, a trial court must do more than “make a conclusory statement that there is or is not a genuine dispute as to material fact. The court must state the reasons for its decision with enough specificity to provide useful guidance to the parties and, if necessary, to allow for appellate review.”
Amended rule 1.510 now provides that a motion for summary judgment must be filed at least 40 days before the time fixed for a hearing. The amended rule also provides that the nonmovant’s response—with supporting factual position—be filed at least 20 days before the hearing.
Application of the Amended Rule To Pending Cases: Amended rule 1.510 takes effect on May 1, 2021.
With the onset of the new Florida summary judgment standard, it remains to be seen how the Florida courts will interpret the new rule. Florida judges for many years have given rule 1.510 a broad interpretation regarding what was a “genuine issue”. As such, it may be a slow process until the Florida courts interpretation of the new rule aligns with the Federal courts interpretation of the standard. The Ledezma Law Firm along with the legal community are fairly confident the new summary judgment rule will be beneficial to Plaintiffs and the court system in general.