Summary Judgement Rule Changes

The Supreme Court of Florida has recently amended the rules of procedure for summary judgment by adopting the federal standard. The amendment will not take effect until May 1, 2021 to allow for public comments. The amendment replaces no “genuine issue as to any material fact” with “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and changes the burden of proof in certain circumstances. It also includes that the standard for a summary judgment shall be the federal standard as articulated by 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).

In essence, summary judgment standard mirrors the standard for a directed verdict. The inquiry is the same as to “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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. Secondly, there is no longer a burden by the moving party to submit affidavits negating an opponent’s claim as the burden may be discharged by showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case. In other words, as long as sufficient time has elapsed for discovery, summary judgment should be granted against a party who bears the burden of proof at trial and fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that parties case. Lastly, the court has adopted the federal standard as whether “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” Id. at 248. Accordingly, it will no longer suffice to merely show some competent evidence to create an issue of fact to create doubt. Instead, it must show the existence of opposing evidence which a reasonable jury could believe in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment.

Previously, the party moving for summary judgment had the burden to prove that there was no genuine issue of fact. The change in this rule essentially changes the burden of proof for summary judgment to be the same as a directed verdict. For instance, a defendant can move for summary judgment and cite lack of evidence presented by the Plaintiff instead of having to prove there is no evidence to support the Plaintiff’s claims. Since the Plaintiff will bear the burden of proof at trial, the plaintiff will also bear the burden to show that there is evidence in the record that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the Plaintiff’s favor. As such, we anticipate the change in the rules to provide for more summary judgments to be entered in favor of Defendants.

The Supreme Court of Florida Amendment can be found Here.