Effective May 1, 2021, the Florida courts will transition to a new summary judgment standard meant to "align Florida's summary judgment standard with that of the federal courts and of the supermajority of states that have already adopted the federal summary judgment standard." In re Amends. to Fla. Rule of Civ. Pro. 1.510, 309 So. 3d 192, 192 (Fla. 2020). Consistent with this amendment, Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 has been amended to adopt the federal summary judgment rule, with exceptions for timing-related issues. The Florida Supreme Court's most recent opinion on rule 1.510 and the text of new rule 1.510 can be found  here.

As background, on December 31, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the federal summary judgment standard by amending Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(c) to include the following sentence: "The summary judgment standard provided for in this rule shall be construed and applied in accordance with the federal summary judgment standard articulated in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1976); and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986) [(the 'Celotex  trilogy')]." In re Amends. to Fla. Rule of Civ. Pro. 1.510, 309 So. 3d at 196. The court's amendment was slated to take effect on May 1, 2021, subject to a public comment period. The court also sought guidance from the Florida Bar's Civil Procedure Rules Committee. After careful consideration of numerous responses, the court ultimately chose to adopt the substance of the text from federal rule 56. Along with its amendments, the court provides substantial guidance as to how the Florida courts and practitioners should interpret the new rule. A summary of the court's thorough discussion follows.

Adherence to the Federal Summary Judgment Standard: The new summary judgment standard is to be interpreted consistent with the entire body of case law interpreting federal rule 56—not just the law as applied in the Celotex  trilogy. The court acknowledged the import of the federal Celotex  trilogy of cases, which forms the foundation for the federal standard, but removed reference to Celotex in the body of amended rule 1.510. The court explained that "the new rule must be guided not only by the Celotex  trilogy, but by the overall body of case law interpreting federal rule 56." 

The Movant's Burden of Production: The burden of production refers to the quantum of evidence required in order to either negate an essential element of the nonmovant's claim, or establish that the nonmoving party cannot carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial. See Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099 (9th Cir. 2000). The court observed that the movant's burden of production is not "onerous" and can be "regularly discharged with ease." Despite this, the court admonished that the nonmovant should still be afforded "adequate time for discovery."

Defensive Summary Judgment Motions Authorized: The court specifically recognized that amended rule 1.510 permits a moving party to obtain summary judgment without disproving the nonmoving party's case. Specifically, "If the nonmoving party must prove X to prevail [at trial], the moving party at summary judgment can either produce evidence that X is not so or point out that the nonmoving party lacks the evidence to prove X." Bedford v. Doe, 880 F.3d 993, 996-97 (8th Cir. 2018). "A movant for summary judgment need not set forth evidence when the nonmovant bears the burden of persuasion at trial." Wease v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, L.L.C., 915 F.3d 987, 997 (5th Cir. 2019).

The Trial Court's Reasons for Granting or Denying Summary Judgment:  Rule 1.510 provides that a trial court shall  state on the record its reasons for granting or denying summary judgment. The court classified this as a "critical requirement," and explained that, in order to comply, a trial court must do more than "make a conclusory statement that there is or is not a genuine dispute as to material fact. The court must state the reasons for its decision with enough specificity to provide useful guidance to the parties and, if necessary, to allow for appellate review."

Time for Filing and Responding to Summary Judgment Motions: Amended rule 1.510 now provides that a motion for summary judgment must be filed at least 40 days before the time fixed for a hearing. The amended rule also provides that the nonmovant's response—with supporting factual position—be filed at least 20 days before the hearing

Application of the Amended Rule To Pending Cases: Amended rule 1.510 takes effect on May 1, 2021. The court clarified that it applies to pending cases as follows:

  • where summary judgment has already been denied under the pre-amendment rule: "the court should give the parties a reasonable opportunity to file a renewed summary judgment motion under the new rule. See Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, 308 So. 3d 961, 964 (Fla. 2020)."
  • where a pending summary judgment motion is briefed, but has not been heard: "the court should allow the parties a reasonable opportunity to amend their filings to comply with the new rule."
  • where a motion for rehearing is pending pursuant to a motion decided under the pre-amendment rule: the motion "should be decided under the pre-amendment rule, subject of course to a party's ability to file a renewed motion for summary judgment under the new rule."

Despite what appears to be clear-cut guidance from the Florida Supreme Court, it remains to be seen how lower Florida courts will interpret this new standard. We are cautiously optimistic that this new standard will benefit our clients by making it easier to obtain summary judgment when there is no genuine evidence upon which a nonmovant can rely in order to carry its burden of persuasion at trial. Importantly, the new standard displaces the "scintilla of evidence" standard that previously governed in Florida state court.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.