Recent Court Decision Affects Florida’s Revised Rule of Civil Procedure Governing Summary Judgments
In this blog, Matt Couch, Attorney with Moorhead Law Group of Pensacola and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, writes about a recent Florida Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision recognizing how Florida’s revised rule of civil procedure governing summary judgment permits a trial court to make findings of fact based solely on the movant’s motion when the respondent fails to file a response. Couch’s practice areas include real estate and construction disputes, business litigation, and employment law. To learn more about him, his areas of practice, and his contact information, click here.
On June 8, 2022, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Fourth DCA) ruled that Florida’s revised rule of civil procedure governing summary judgment permits a trial court to make findings of fact based solely on the movant’s motion when the respondent fails to file a response. In Lloyd S. Meisels, P.A. v. Dobrofsky, the Plaintiff in the trial court action sued an animal hospital and veterinarian based on a billing dispute for services rendered. The Defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff’s claims. The trial court granted the motion as to only some, but not all, of the pending claims. Approximately seven months later, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims. Defendants failed to file a response brief or other evidence to refute the motion. The trial court then granted Plaintiff’s motion in full, resulting in a final judgment of dismissal against Defendants. The summary judgment order observed that the Defendants had not filed a response or objection to the plaintiff’s motion and that the matter was considered in accordance with the amended summary judgment rule. The order then made detailed findings of fact based on the Plaintiff’s submissions, which supported recovery on the causes of action that survived the order on the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
The Fourth DCA affirmed the decision and dismissal. The focal point of the appellate opinion is a review of Florida’s recently amended summary judgment standard under Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510. The rule was amended effective May 1, 2021, to make it more consistent with the Federal summary judgment standard, among other changes. One addition to Rule 1.510 that is not present in the Federal standard is under subpart 1.510(c)(5), pertaining to the mandatory timing of filing summary judgment motions and responses. Under that subpart: “At least 20 days before the time fixed for the hearing, the nonmovant must serve a response that includes the nonmovant’s supporting factual position…” Further, if a party fails to properly support or address a fact in the context of summary judgment motions, the amended rule under subpart 1.510(e) provides discretionary options for the court, including under (e)(2) that the court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the [summary judgment] motion.”
On appeal, the Defendants/Appellants urged the court to consider their earlier filed summary judgment motion as satisfying the requirements under Rule 1.510(c) and 1.510(e). The appellate court rejected this argument, finding that such an approach would “undermine the rule’s intent to have the parties take definite, detailed positions on summary judgment motions.” The appellate court went on to caution that by failing to file a response the “nonmoving party pursues a risky course by waving at the record, leaving the trial court to mine for nuggets of triable fact that would preclude summary judgment.”
Finally, the appellate court pointed out that there was no record or transcript from the summary judgment hearing, leaving nothing for the court to consider. Finding no abuse of discretion, the appellate court affirmed.
While the newly-adopted summary judgment standard under Rule 1.510 is very similar to the Federal standard, there are several procedural nuances that make Florida’s version of the rule unique. The decision in Lloyd S. Meisels, P.A. v. Dobrofsky is a good reminder of the new timing/filing requirements for summary judgment. Further, the decision confirms that litigants should not rely on an earlier-filed summary judgment motion and brief to refute a summary judgment motion filed later in time by the opposing party.