Florida’s New Summary Judgment Standard

Jan 19, 2021

By Amy Koltnow, Shareholder

On December 31, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court amended Florida’s civil procedural rule pertaining to summary judgments to align with the standard used in federal court cases. The amendment, which will not take effect until May 1, 2021, now includes the added sentence:

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 identified three “key differences” between the current rule and the federal standard, which will no longer exist:

  • The inquiry for the court will now be the same as the standard for a directed verdict: “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.”

  • The movant is no longer required to conclusively disprove, or negate, the non-movant’s theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact. Rather, the moving party needs to show that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case and then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with evidence to support its claim.

  •  Florida caselaw previously adopted an expansive view of what constituted a genuine issue of material fact—any competent evidence, raising the “slightest doubt” was enough to defeat a summary judgment regardless of whether the evidence was credible or trivial. The test is now whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. 

The Florida and federal procedural summary judgment rules have the same purpose, that is, “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.” The substance of Florida’s summary judgment rule is not materially different than the federal rule. Florida’s rule 1.510(c) requires summary judgment where the record shows “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.” Florida, however, developed caselaw that made it more difficult for a party to obtain a summary judgment and, oftentimes, resulted in meritless litigation. 

The effect of this amendment will allow judges to use reasoned judgment when evaluating the evidence presented by both parties. The new standard should make it easier for insurers to obtain a summary judgment on claims when the insured does not come forward with competent and credible evidence to support its position. Favorable federal cases should provide persuasive legal support to the Florida state court judges. 

Additionally, expert testimony can be challenged more readily in Florida state courts. In 2019, Florida reestablished the “Daubert” federal standard for admitting expert testimony. This standard was generally considered a more onerous test to ensure expert testimony is rooted in scientifically valid principles and that those principles are properly applied to the facts at issue. 

The Florida Supreme Court has invited public comments to be filed by March 2, 2021, to address the amendment and whether additional changes or amendments are necessary to effectuate the intended purpose. 

Read the amendment here.