Effective May 1st, 2021, Florida courts will begin utilizing a different standard in evaluating motions for summary judgment. The Florida Supreme Court, acting on its own motion, has amended the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure to adopt the federal summary judgment standard, which “is expected to make it easier for judges to grant summary judgment motions.”1 Summary Judgment is a pre-trial judgment brought by motion that dispositively determines the resolution of a case.2
Of note, most states employ the federal summary judgment standard, and this move by the Florida Supreme Court “align[s] 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.”3
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.” Despite relatively similar language, Florida courts and federal courts have not aligned in application. In their opinion, the Florida Supreme Court noted that, after having invited briefs on the Summary judgment issue in Wilsonart, LLC, et al. v. Miguel Lopez,4 it is:
persuaded that the federal summary judgment standard better comports with the text and purpose of rule 1.510 and that adopting that standard is in the best interest of our state. As we said at the outset, our rules of civil procedure are meant ‘to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.’ Yet Florida courts’ interpretation of our summary judgment rule has unnecessarily failed to contribute to that objective. Overall and especially as to each of the key areas described above, the federal summary judgment standard is more rational, more fair, and more consistent with the structure and purpose of our rules of civil procedure.5
The Florida Supreme Court noted three consequences of this deviation from the federal standard: (1) courts do not currently recognize the similarity between summary judgment and directed verdict motions as is present in federal court; (2) as per Holl v. Talcott,6 the movant must “conclusively ‘to disprove the nonmovant’s theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact”; and, (3) courts use an expansive interpretation of what is deemed a “genuine issue of fact.” The first and third consequence reinforce the desire for consistency among and between courts, however the second consequence regarding Holl, will have the most significant effect on the analysis of motions for summary judgment.
Removing this additional step of conclusively disproving the opposing theory of the case, should make it easier to succeed on summary judgment motions; however, time will tell as the new Florida Summary Judgment standard does not go into effect until May 1, 2021.
1 Gary Blankenship, Court Amends State Summary Judgment Rule to Federal Standard, THE FLORIDA BAR (Jan. 05, 2021), https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/court-amends-state-summary-judgment-rule-to-federal-standard/
2 Summary Judgment may also be partial, which dispositively determines, as a matter of law, a specific portion of the case.
3 Supreme Court of Florida Or. SC20-1490 (Dec. 31, 2020), https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/698378/opinion/sc20-1490.pdf.
4 Wilsonart, LLC, et al. v. Miguel Lopez, 308 So.3d 961 (Fla. 2020).
5 Supreme Court of Florida Or. SC20-1490 (Dec. 31, 2020), https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/698378/opinion/sc20-1490.pdf, citing Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.010.
6 Holl v. Talcott, 191 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 1966).