Having previously announced that it would adopt the federal summary judgment standard, the Florida Supreme Court has opted to largely replace the text of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 with the text of federal rule 56, with some exceptions for timing-related issues. In re Amendments to Fla. Rule of Civ. Pro. 1.510, No. SC20-1490, 46 Fla. L. Weekly S95a (Fla. Apr. 29, 2021). The new rule became effective May 1, 2021 and governs adjudication of any summary judgment motion decided on or after that date.

Having previously announced that it would adopt the federal summary judgment standard, the Florida Supreme Court has opted to largely replace the text of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 with the text of federal rule 56, with some exceptions for timing-related issues. In re Amendments to Fla. Rule of Civ. Pro. 1.510, No. SC20-1490, 46 Fla. L. Weekly S95a (Fla. Apr. 29, 2021). The new rule became effective May 1, 2021 and governs adjudication of any summary judgment motion decided on or after that date.

Background

In December, the Florida Supreme Court announced that rule 1.510 would be amended, effective May 1, 2021 to state that the summary judgment standard should be construed and applied in accordance with the federal summary judgment standard, as articulated in the Celotex trilogy. This was a major development because Florida courts had typically imposed a more stringent standard on summary judgment movants, often requiring them to disprove the other side’s case in order to win summary judgment.

The Court invited comments on the amendment, including whether Florida’s rule should be replaced in its entirety with the text of federal rule 56. Nearly all the commenters supported the Court’s decision to adopt the federal summary judgment standard. Commenters were divided on how far the Court should go toward incorporating the text of the federal rule.

The New Rule

On April 29, 2021, the Court announced that it would largely replace the text of rule 1.510 with the text of federal rule 56, because “[d]oing so makes it more likely that Florida’s adoption of the federal summary judgment standard will take root”; textual overlap between the rules “will provide greater uncertainty and eliminate unproductive speculation and litigation over differences between those rules”; and “Florida litigants and judges will get the full benefit of the large body of case law interpreting and applying federal rule 56.”

Rather than mentioning the Celotex trilogy in the text of rule 1.510, the Court added a Court Note to the rule explaining that the “federal summary judgment standard” refers to the Celotex trilogy “and more generally to case law interpreting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.”

Litigants can point to this Court Note when citing federal cases, and this should help to bring Florida’s summary judgment jurisprudence in line with federal case law as it evolves over time.

Trial Court Must State Reasons for Granting or Denying Summary Judgment

Rule 1.510(a) will diverge from federal rule 56(a) in one respect: where the federal rule says the court should state on the record its reasons for granting or denying summary judgment, new rule 1.510(a) says that the court shall do so. To comply with this requirement, “it will not be enough for the court to make a conclusory statement that there is or is not a genuine dispute of 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.” The Court agreed with commenters that this requirement is critical to ensure that Florida courts “embrace the federal summary judgment standard in practice and not just on paper.”

Time for Filing and Responding to Summary Judgment Motions

One major change from both the federal rule and the current Florida rule is the new timing requirements of rule 1.510. Whereas in federal court, hearings on summary judgment motions are not required and are relatively rare in many jurisdictions, Florida’s rule has tied the timing of summary judgment motions and responses to the hearing. The rule previously required materials filed in opposition to a motion for summary judgment to be filed only 2-5 days before the hearing. The new rule requires motions for summary judgment be filed at least 40 days before the time fixed for hearing, and the nonmovant’s response with supporting factual position must be filed at least 20 days before the hearing. In theory, this should “reduce gamesmanship and surprise and… allow for more deliberative consideration of summary judgment motions.” In practice, this may result in parties jockeying to file replies and sur-replies, although parties have the assurance (unlike in federal court) that they will have an opportunity to make their arguments at a hearing.

The New Rule’s Application to Pending Cases

The rule took effect May 1, 2021 and will govern the adjudication of any summary judgment motion decided on or after that date, including in pending cases. In cases where a summary judgment motion was denied under the pre-amendment rule, “the court should give the parties a reasonable opportunity to file a renewed summary judgment motion under the new rule.” In cases where a pending summary judgment motion has been briefed but not decided, “the court should allow the parties a reasonable opportunity to amend their filings to comply with the new rule.” Any pending rehearing of a summary judgment motion decided under the pre-amendment rule “should be decided under the pre-amendment rule, subject of course to a party’s ability to file a renewed motion for summary judgment under the new rule.”

Conclusion

By adopting the federal summary judgment standard, along with its adoption of the federal Daubert standard for admission of expert testimony in 2019, the Florida Supreme Court is taking strides to narrow the differences between litigating in Florida state and federal courts. It may be quite some time before we see the full effect of these changes, though. Adapting to a more rigorous standard will be challenging for Florida trial courts, particularly as they face the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic. Ultimately, these changes will promote uniformity in the law, deter forum shopping, and reduce the costs and burdens of litigation for the litigants and the courts.