For many litigators, the best way to start a new year is with a new summary judgment standard! On December 31, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion, adopting the federal court’s summary judgment standard as articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). This has been a long time coming for businesses as the federal standard may decrease legal expenses by expediting civil lawsuits and avoiding unnecessary trials. This decision may also alleviate the burden on Florida’s courts by allowing more cases to be resolved at the summary judgment phase.

Former Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment in Florida is governed by Rule 1.510. In pertinent part, Rule 1.510 previously provided the “summary judgment evidence on file must show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Florida courts have taken a broad approach in interpreting “no genuine issue” by prohibiting the granting of summary judgment where there is the existence of any evidence of an issue of fact. In other words, if there was the “slightest doubt” raised, Florida courts would not grant summary judgment.

Federal Summary Judgment Standard

In contrast, the federal standard enumerated in Rule 56 is less cumbersome and requires that a “reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” in order to defeat summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Thus, federal courts allow summary judgment to be entered as long as no reasonable jury could believe the defending party’s facts. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

Next Steps

In adopting the federal court standard, Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 will now read “summary judgment evidence on file must show there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Florida’s adoption of the federal summary judgment standard is set become effective May 1, 2021. The Florida Supreme Court is also taking comment from the Florida Bar and the public regarding this amendment. All comments are due March 2, 2021.

Should you have any questions, I may be reached at katherine.cook@henlaw.com or by phone at 239-344-1364.