Obtaining summary judgment in state court in Florida has long been more difficult than in Federal Courts. Florida courts have required the party seeking summary judgment to prove a negative and “conclusively disprove” the other side’s theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact. One treatise on Florida law has also noted that “any competent evidence creating an issue of fact, however credible or incredible, substantial or trivial, stops the inquiry and precludes summary judgment, so long as the ‘slightest doubt’ is raised.”
However, on December 31, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court amended Florida’s Summary Judgment Standard in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510, effective on May 1, 2021, to adopt the summary judgment standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in 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). The Florida Supreme Court felt it was time to join the “supermajority of states that have already adopted the federal summary judgment standard.”
The effect of this change will move away from the Florida standard referenced above. No longer will the party seeking summary judgment have to disprove the opposing party’s factual claims. Courts hearing summary judgment arguments can rely on record evidence and not accept assertions that contradict that record evidence. Further, parties opposing summary judgment cannot prevail just by creating the ‘slightest doubt’ in the factual record.
The previous high burden of proof on a party seeking summary judgment has long foiled insurers seeking summary judgment in liability and coverage cases with little to no factual disputes. The new standard will now permit entry of summary judgment when there is an absence of evidence to support the case of the party not seeking summary judgment.
As stated above, this change should help insurers obtain summary judgment more readily, saving costs on brining cases to trial or re-litigating motions for summary judgment that were previously denied based on the inability to eliminate all issues of fact raised by a party contesting summary judgment. It should also stifle litigation by claimants with factually weak cases.
The Florida Supreme Court will accept comments to this proposed change through March 2, 2021.