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Florida Supreme Court issues order adopting federal summary judgment standard creating lower bar for summary judgment; amendment to take effect 5/1/2021 pending public comments

On December 31, 2020, in IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO FLORIDA RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, No. SC20-1490, the Florida Supreme Court amended Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510 to adopt the federal 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 Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).  Amended Rule 1.510 now specifically refers to the federal summary judgment standard and provides for summary judgment where there is no “genuine dispute” as to any material fact (the former rule referred to “genuine issue”).    To allow an opportunity for public comments, this amendment will not take effect until May 1, 2021. The Florida Supreme Court cited three inconsistencies between the existing Florida standard and the federal standard which the amendment will resolve.  First, it will harmonize the standards for summary judgment and directed verdict.  Second, it will eliminate the requirement for movants to disprove the nonmovant’s theory of the case. Instead, if a movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, the nonmovant must “show” that there are facts establishing the existence of the elements essential to the party’s case.  Third, the federal “genuine dispute” standard is satisfied only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. The interpretation of a “genuine issue” under prior Florida law was interpreted as providing that the existence of 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.

The effect of the amendment in the personal injury area will probably be the greatest in premises liability “slip and fall” cases and in any case in which there is compelling video evidence supporting the summary judgment motion.